A New Path to an HIV Vaccine?

BY HIV Plus Editors

November 04 2009 12:00 AM ET

To date, efforts to create a vaccine producing protective antibodies that recognize and attack invading HIV have failed, leading many researchers to believe that an antibody-based vaccine -- the most common form of inoculation for other diseases -- is an unattainable goal in the fight against AIDS.

Not so fast, say John R. Mascola, MD, and colleagues at the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. They report that recent studies show, contrary to widespread belief, that the body does indeed naturally produce antibodies that can neutralize HIV. But instead of being created during early viral infection, as is the case with most other diseases, the anti-HIV antibodies typically arise several years after HIV infection.

So, what if a vaccine could prime the body to begin producing these antibodies not years after HIV infection, but before it ever occurred? "They could potentially prevent infection -- or hold the virus at bay -- until an army of immune cells assembles to limit viral replication," the scientists say in a NIAID press release.

The research team is now working to obtain more neutralizing antibodies to expand the pool available for scientists to study; to identify regions on the surface of HIV that are most susceptible to these antibodies; and to determine what quantity of antibodies a vaccine must elicit to be effective, among other goals.

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