Scientists at The National Institutes of Health have discovered two potent human antibodies that can stop more than 90 percent of known global HIV strains from infecting human cells in the laboratory, and have demonstrated how one of these disease-fighting proteins accomplishes this feat. According to the scientists, these antibodies could be used to design improved HIV vaccines, or could be further developed to prevent or treat HIV infection. Moreover, the method used to find these antibodies could be applied to isolate therapeutic antibodies for other infectious diseases as well.
“The discovery of these exceptionally broadly neutralizing antibodies to HIV and the structural analysis that explains how they work are exciting advances that will accelerate our efforts to find a preventive HIV vaccine for global use,” says Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), National Institutes of Health. “In addition, the technique the teams used to find the new antibodies represents a novel strategy that could be applied to vaccine design for many other infectious diseases.”
The virus is notoriously hard to attack, the scientists say, because it constantly changes its surface. That means there are, in their words, “an enormous number” of HIV strains around the world. But the researchers have found a few parts of HIV’s surface that are common to most strains of the virus. That allowed them to hone in on weak spots and find antibodies that attach to those places.
The National Institute of Health doctors who led the research say the discovery could lead to a vaccine that will prevent HIV infection.