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Antibody Deadly To HIV Lifts Vaccine Hopes

Word of an exciting discovery in the world of HIV research came Thursday with the announcement of an antibody that is almost always deadly to the virus that causes AIDS.

The discovery holds out the promise that an effective vaccine will eventually be made to provide protection against the virus. That goal has been elusive ever since it became clear in the 1980s that the HIV virus causes AIDS.

The antibody was found in an American man, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

A snippet from the WSJ:

The antibodies were discovered in the cells of a 60-year-old African-American gay man, known in the scientific literature as Donor 45, whose body made the antibodies naturally. Researchers screened 25 million of his cells to find 12 that produced the antibodies. Now the trick will be for scientists to develop a vaccine or other methods to make anyone's body produce them.

That the cells of an African American appear to hold such promise may coincidentally remind some of the contribution to medical knowledge by Henrietta Lacks, a black woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951 but whose cancer cells never died and are the source of the immortal cell line known as HeLa cells. Over the decades those cells have greatly contributed to researchers' understanding of cell biology.

According to news reports, the antibodies produced by Donor 45 develop too slowly to stop the infection naturally in the human body.

The hope, however, is that a vaccine based on the antibodies could arrest the virus.

An excerpt from a Reuters story:

"I am more optimistic about an AIDS vaccine at this point in time than I have been probably in the last 10 years," Dr. Gary Nabel of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who led the study, said in a telephone interview.

Two of the antibodies can attach to and neutralize 90 percent of the various mutations of the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS, Nabel said.

"This is an antibody that evolved after the fact. That is part of the problem we have in dealing with HIV — once a person becomes infected, the virus always gets ahead of the immune system," Nabel said.

"What we are trying to do with a vaccine is get ahead of the virus."