This image shows the atomic structure of the
antibody VRC01 (blue and green) binding
to HIV (grey and red). (Pic: NIAID VRC)

In what could prove to be a significant breakthrough, US scientists have discovered two potent antibodies that prevent 90% of HIV strains from infecting human cells.

The individual in whose cells the antibodies were discovered is an HIV positive 60-year-old African-American gay man, dubbed Donor 45, whose body naturally produces the antibodies.

According to the scientists, these antibodies could be used to design improved HIV vaccines, or could be further developed to prevent or treat HIV infection.

“The discovery of these exceptionally broadly neutralising antibodies to HIV and the structural analysis that explains how they work are exciting advances that will accelerate our efforts to find a preventive HIV vaccine for global use,” said Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., director of America’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), National Institutes of Health.

Moreover, the method used to find these antibodies could be applied to isolate therapeutic antibodies for other infectious diseases as well, said the researchers.

Led by a team from the NIAID Vaccine Research Center (VRC), the scientists found the two naturally occurring, powerful antibodies called VRC01 and VRC02 in Donor 45’s blood using a novel molecular device they developed that hones in on the specific cells that make antibodies against HIV.

The scientists found that VRC01 and VRC02 neutralise more HIV strains with greater overall strength than previously known antibodies to the virus.

With this knowledge, the scientists have begun to design components of a candidate vaccine that could teach the human immune system to make antibodies similar to VRC01 that might prevent infection by the vast majority of HIV strains worldwide.

Two articles about the findings have been published in the online edition of Science.

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