Path to HIV Seen in Study of Patient’s Antibodies

Researchers tracking the intricate struggle between HIV and the human immune system have uncovered information that may be helpful in the 30-year hunt for a vaccine by monitoring the virus’s progress week by week in a newly infected patient.

Blood samples from the person were used to monitor the AIDS virus as it mutated to evade immune system antibodies. While HIV almost always wins that battle, scientists after two years of testing the man found he was among the 20 percent of patients who eventually produce “broadly neutralizing antibodies” able to shut down most forms of HIV.

That allowed them to study the antibodies closely as they evolved, offering potential approaches to spark their natural production through a vaccine, the researchers said. More than 1.2 million people have HIV in the U.S., and 34.2 million are infected worldwide. While new drugs help to keep the disease in check, an easy-to-use vaccine for the disease for high-risk groups would be valuable.

“For the first time, we have mapped not only the evolutionary pathway of the antibody, but also the evolutionary pathway of the virus, defining the sequence of events involved that induce the broadly neutralizing antibodies,” said Barton Haynes, director of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, in a statement.

The study, funded by the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was published in the journal Nature.

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