People with natural immunity to HIV may serve as basis for new vaccine

November 9, 2012 by James Hataway

(Medical Xpress)—Despite urgent need and tremendous scientific effort, researchers have yet to discover a vaccine for HIV that adequately protects humans from infection. But some people don't need one. For reasons not completely understood, there are individuals who have developed a natural immunity to the virus without any medical intervention.

Now, thanks in part to a five-year $1.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, researchers at the University of Georgia in collaboration with researchers at Scripps Research Institute are trying to mimic this in a new vaccine that may one day help stop the disease that infects five million people each year.

"HIV is very good at evading the immune system, but people with natural immunity have that will protect them against most variations of the virus," said Joshua Sharp, an analytical chemist and assistant research scientist in UGA's Research Center. "We want to figure out how to evoke the same kind of in other people."

The average person's immune system will attempt to fight HIV, but normally the virus simply mutates and deflects the attack until it is able to replicate and spread unimpeded.

Sharp's laboratory, along with with Robert Woods' computational chemistry group at the University of Georgia and Dennis Burton's virology group at Scripps Research Institute, is exploring how people with natural immunity to HIV create antibodies that bind with a specific protein on the exterior of the virus called gp120.

Gp120 helps the virus find targets inside the body, latch onto them and invade host cells. Antibodies in people with natural immunity assault this and disrupt its functions. More importantly, the virus cannot mutate to bypass the attack.

"Nature is a beautiful chemistry lab," Sharp said. "What we need to do is take these antibodies that we find in nature, reverse engineer them and make them available to everyone."

Sharp, Woods, and their colleagues will use analytical chemistry tools and computer simulation to develop a clearer idea of how and where these antibodies bind to the , and what is required for scientists to make the same thing happen in a vaccine.

"Essentially, what we're doing is taking snapshots of the protein's outer shell," Sharp said.

Once they know where the antibody binds, researchers can replicate that protein location and try to make the same process happen artificially in someone without natural immunity.

Sharp, Woods, and Burton hope that their new approach will not only result in the long sought-after HIV vaccine but also revolutionize the process of creating vaccines for other diseases.

The human body is a tremendous reservoir for disease fighting tools, he said. In the case of HIV and other important pathogens, it may simply be a matter of understanding and exploiting the natural defenses that have been evolving for millions of years.

Explore further: Insight into HIV immunity may lead to vaccine

Related Stories

Insight into HIV immunity may lead to vaccine

May 6, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Latest insights into immunity to HIV could help to develop a vaccine to build antibodies’ defences against the disease, a University of Melbourne study has found.

New HIV vaccine approach targets desirable immune cells

September 1, 2011
Researchers at Duke University Medical Center, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School have demonstrated an approach to HIV vaccine design that uses an altered form of HIV's outer coating or envelope ...

Recommended for you

Research on HIV viral load urges updates to WHO therapy guidelines

November 24, 2017
A large cohort study in South Africa has revealed that that low-level viraemia (LLV) in HIV-positive patients who are receiving antiretroviral treatment (ART) is an important risk factor for treatment failure.

Scientists find where HIV 'hides' to evade detection by the immune system

October 19, 2017
In a decades-long game of hide and seek, scientists from Sydney's Westmead Institute for Medical Research have confirmed for the very first time the specific immune memory T-cells where infectious HIV 'hides' in the human ...

National roll-out of PrEP HIV prevention drug would be cost-effective

October 18, 2017
Providing pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication to men who have sex with men who are at high risk of HIV infection (equivalent to less than 5% of men who have sex with men at any point in time) in England would be cost-effective, ...

Regulatory T cells harbor HIV/SIV virus during antiviral drug treatment

October 17, 2017
Scientists at Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University have identified an additional part of the HIV reservoir, immune cells that survive and harbor the virus despite long-term treatment with antiviral drugs.

New research opens the door to 'functional cure' for HIV

October 17, 2017
In findings that open the door to a completely different approach to curing HIV infections, scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have for the first time shown that a novel compound effectively ...

Researchers create molecule that could 'kick and kill' HIV

October 5, 2017
Current anti-AIDS drugs are highly effective at making HIV undetectable and allowing people with the virus to live longer, healthier lives. The treatments, a class of medications called antiretroviral therapy, also greatly ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.