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Antibodies discovered that can crack HIV’s defences

While those with HIV can lead close to a normal life thanks to retroviral drugs there is still no vaccine for HIV. The development of a vaccine is an area of considerable research interest.

In signs of a possible breakthrough, virologists have discovered that antibodies can target holes within the shield-like structure that surrounds a viral particle. These ‘holes’, which are on the nano-scale, appear to be scattered throughout HIV’s protective sugar (glycan cover). The research interest is now whether these holes can be broken through in order to induce protective antibodies.

Discussing this further, lead researcher Professor Dennis R. Burton, from the Scripps Research Institute, said: “It’s important now to evaluate future vaccine candidates to more rapidly understand the immune response they induce to particular glycan holes and learn from it.”

Initial studies suggest that specific antibodies are capable of detecting the holes in the sugar structure. This has been shown in research using rabbits. Here scientists have developed an HIV protein, called the envelope glycoprotein (Env) trimer that triggers rabbits to produce antibodies against HIV.

The investigation found that the developed antibodies can target holes in the glycan shield. These could, therefore, be suitable as a vaccine candidate. It is estimated that 90 percent of HIV types have a similar architecture and the same vulnerability could be exploited. Further investigations are required; however, the research to date offers a promising first step.

The research has been published in the journal Cell Reports. The study is called “Holes in the Glycan Shield of the Native HIV Envelope Are a Target of Trimer-Elicited Neutralizing Antibodies.”

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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