Experimental vaccine targets HIV's protective shield

Researchers have designed a novel vaccine that prompts the production of antibodies that can physically bind to HIV's protective sugar-protein shield.


NSFW    COLLEGE PARK, MARYLAND — University of Maryland and Duke University researchers have designed a new vaccine that was able to stimulate an immune response against HIV's protective shield.

According to the study published in the journal Cell Chemical Biology, HIV virus cells are covered with a protective protein called GP120, which itself is covered by a sugar shield to help bolster its defenses.

Some infected individuals who can keep the virus at bay without medication often have have antibodies that attack the protein.

There has been little success in creating a similar vaccine, because the sugars found in the shield resemble sugars in the human body. It's also difficult to engineer antibodies that can be effective against the multiple strains of HIV, which frequently mutate.

Using a synthetic chemistry method, scientists have now designed a vaccine combining a gp120 fragment and a sugar molecule, and tested it on HIV-infected rabbits.

The vaccine prompted the rabbits' immune systems to produce antibodies that physically bound to gp120 found in four dominant HIV strains.

It takes roughly two years to build immunity against HIV, so despite sticking to the virus, the antibodies weren't able to prevent further infection.

But the vaccine's ability to induce a strong immune response in a short amount of time is encouraging, and researchers believe further studies can produce a vaccine that can ultimately neutralize the deadly virus.
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