Scientists on a quest for an antibody-based AIDS vaccine on Wednesday said they found promising clues in the uncommonly “robust” natural immune response of a patient in Africa.
Studying blood samples over a three-year period after the person was infected, researchers were witness to a microscopic battle between the virus and antibodies — both evolving as they sought to gain the upper hand.
For the first time, scientists were able to follow the full chain of events leading to the patient naturally producing broadly neutralizing antibodies (BnAbs) — so called because they attack different strains of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS.
“The current research ... fills gaps in knowledge that have impeded development of an effective vaccine for a virus that has killed more than 30 million people worldwide,” said a statement from Duke Medicine, which participated in the study by a team of researchers in the US and Malawi.
“We learned from this individual how the antibodies get induced with the hope that this information can be a map for how to induce these antibodies as a preventive vaccine,” added team leader Barton Haynes, director of Duke University’s Human Vaccine Institute.
Most antiviral vaccines are made by priming antibodies to recognize germs, but the method has not yet been successful in AIDS control.
One of vaccine developers’ fiercest foes, the HIV virus typically evolves too fast to ever be left open to antibody attack.
The individual in the study is one of about 20 percent of HIV-infected people whose immune systems naturally produce BnAbs.