HIV Vaccine: Study Provides Insight Into Possible Development

First Posted: Oct 13, 2015 12:06 PM EDT

A University of Witwatersrand PhD student, in Johannesburg, South Africa, published a study that has important implications in the development of a potential Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) vaccine.

Jinal Bhiman, a student in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Witwatersrand, was the lead author of the study, published in the journal Nature Medicine, and described how the viral swarm in an HIV-infected person changes, which could drive the newest generation of antibodies to be able to neutralize global HIV strains.

Scientists believe that the best chance to end the HIV pandemic is still the development of a vaccine, however, researchers say the biggest challenge is the inability to develop antibodies that can handle the large amount of variability of HIV.

Even people who are HIV-positive are able to naturally develop antibodies that can broadly neutralize diseases, but these antibodies are often so unusual that they need to mature extensively before they are broad enough to handle major viruses. The researchers believe that studying these people and how their antibodies develop can provide a road map for vaccine strategies, according to the release.

The team of researchers from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, led by professors Penny Moore and Lynn Morris, studied one woman who developed highly potent broadly neutralizing antibodies. They did so by using high tech approaches, like the isolation of monoclonal antibodies from single B cells, and using ultra-deep sequencing of viral population shifts over three-plus years of infection.

"The study also showed how these early antibodies matured to become broadly neutralizing. As the HIV-swarm struggled to evade these potent early antibodies, it toggled through many mutations in its surface protein. This exposed the maturing antibodies to a diverse range of viruses within this single infected woman," the researchers said. "Antibodies exposed to this high level of viral diversity in turn mutated to be able to tolerate variation, thus acquiring the ability to neutralize diverse global viruses."

The findings of these studies can provide valuable insight into the design of vaccines that can shape the maturation of these antibodies in uninfected people to provide protection from HIV.

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