These findings could lead to novel a HIV vaccine.
When exposed to HIV, certain patients will not develop the infection due to powerful antibodies. The creation of HIV-blocking antibodies has long baffled researchers, but new findings from a study published by Immunity offers clues as to how the body may protect against the virus.
“Uncovering the process by which neutralizing antibodies develop is critical to HIV vaccine design,” said lead author Elise Landais, PhD. “A small fraction of people living with HIV can naturally produce exceptionally powerful and broad antibodies that could prevent HIV from infecting their immune cells, but not until several years post-infection — long after that protection can help them. But it is of enormous interest to vaccine researchers.”
In the study, the authors examined an African patient diagnosed with HIV subtype-A who participated in the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) Protocol C study. This patient was observed to develop HIV broadly neutralizing antibodies (bnAbs) that target the V2-apex site on the surface of the virus, according to the study.
Notably, these types of bnAbs are among the most potent against a majority of HIV strains, according to the authors.
Using next-generation sequencing, the authors were able to observe bnAbs develop in reverse. First, the researchers took images of the interaction between the patient’s immune response with the virus over time.
The authors were then able to rewind bnAb development to the intital stage and observed that certain viral changes bolstered antibody breadth, according to the study.
Importantly, additional analyses showed similarities between the patient’s virus and the virus from another patient who developed the same bnAbs.
These findings underscore how other viral structural attributes can play a role, according to the authors.
“These new findings are consistent and complementary with previous work by IAVI and partners and together could offer a possible template for vaccine design,” Dr Landais said. “We’re one step closer to a vaccine that would protect healthy people from HIV infection, but further research is needed to achieve an optimal design.”
The authors are currently working to translate these findings into a long-active HIV vaccine to prevent the infection, according to the study.
Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently released a statement saying that the development of an effective HIV vaccine will likely be the end of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, highlighting the importance of the new research.
“Development of new and more effective prevention is paramount to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic,” said Mark Feinberg, CEO, IAVI. “Of all the tools needed to curb new HIV infections, a vaccine is arguably the most cost-effective and transformative. We’re unlikely to end AIDS without one.”