The progress made recently in HIV and AIDS research seems to have taken the media by storm. With advancements such as earlier treatment in HIV and AIDS patients, and a vaginal gel found to decrease the risk of infection, it appears we’re a step closer towards vaccination. The most recent breakthrough with the discovery of three new HIV antibodies gives hope to scientists that a vaccine will be found. Drew Halley of SingularityHub reports:
Will HIV eventually go the way of smallpox and polio? Earlier this month, scientists at the National Institute of Health (NIH) announced their discovery of three new HIV antibodies, the most powerful of which neutralizes 91% of all HIV strains. These are the strongest antibodies yet found, and they could hold the key to developing a vaccine to AIDS.
HIV antibodies themselves aren’t rare, and scientists regularly find ones that are effective against a few different strains. But until last year, the most powerful antibody found only protected against about 40% of strains. New techniques for rapidly identifying antibodies have changed this, and sparked an unprecedented number of breakthroughs: in the past year, about half a dozen broadly neutralizing antibodies have been identified. These new antibodies are extremely potent (they neutralize the virus at low blood concentrations) and protect against many more strains of HIV. The research was published as two separate papers in Science (found here and here).
The new antibodies were found in the blood of an HIV-positive man dubbed Donor 45 in the scientific literature. Donor 45 is what’s called a long-term nonprogressor. He has been living in good health with HIV for over 20 years, and although his body has standard viral load, his antibodies keep the virus from invading his cells. His body generates the antibodies naturally, and they started being produced after the virus was already contracted. Scientists do not believe Donor 45’s antibodies are the result of any special genes, and they’re hoping that anyone’s body could be induced into producing them.
As of 2008, the United Nations estimated that approximately 33 million people had HIV/AIDS, and between two and three million people contract the virus each year. An HIV vaccine has been the holy grail of AIDS research, but until recently the results have disappointed. The AIDSVAX vaccine developed by VaxGen failed its North American trial in 2003, and a second trial in Thailand only reduced the rate of transmission by 26%. But previous attempts weren’t working with the antibodies we have today, and there are good reasons to think that the next vaccine will be a game changer.
Story continues at SingularityHub …