An estimated 33 million people worldwide are infected with HIV, and researchers at The National Institute of Health have recently released research describing an antibody that may combat the virus. The researchers discovered 3 powerful antibodies that neutralized 91% of the HIV strains. “The antibodies attach to a virtually unchanging part of the virus, and this explains why they can neutralize such an extraordinary range of HIV strains” says Dr. Mascola, a research director of the Vaccine Research Center.
This is a significant contribution because by neutralizing 91% of the HIV strains, they no longer damage the immune system. The speed at which HIV strains tend to mutate has always been a struggle for researchers searching for a vaccine in the past. However, since these antibodies attach to an unchanging part of the virus, it is more likely to be successful.
Although this is a great leap in the right direction, there is no way to tell when (or if) a vaccine may happen. A great deal of work remains to actually turn these newly discovered antibodies into a vaccine. The scientists would have to craft a vaccine after training the body to naturally produce the antibodies (called VRC01 and VRC02) and isolate the part of the virus that the antibodies latch on to.
A vaccine is certainly closer now that it has ever been. Dr. Nabel, one of the researchers involved in the study, says “these antibodies can serve as guides to make vaccines for HIV and will be tools to try and block infections in some clinical studies and develop new prevention strategies.” This discovery will be used to accelerate efforts to find a preventative HIV vaccine for use around the world. Also, the methodology this research team used to find these antibodies was novel and can be applied to designing vaccines for other infectious diseases.