NEW HOPE IN FIGHT AGAINST AIDS

The Star Online

LONDON – Researchers from the International Aids Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) have found two antibodies that kill the HIV virus, which may turn out to be a significant advance in the search for a vaccine against the virus that causes AIDS.

The discovery came from research launched by IAVI in 2006, to find antibodies that neutralise a wide variety of strains of HIV circulating in the world.

Blood from 1,800 HIV positive volunteers was analysed and screened for antibodies, according to a report by the Mozambican news agency (AIM).

Antibodies are protein molecules produced by the body to destroy toxins and pathogens. Each antibody only binds to the antigen that stimulated its production, so researchers have been looking for antibodies that attack a wide variety of HIV strains.

A major problem, according to IAVI, is that the HIV virus is the most mutable pathogen ever encountered by modern science. These changes enable the virus to avoid the human body’s immune system, and pose the largest obstacle to researchers looking for a vaccine.

The two new antibodies are the first to be discovered in more than a decade, and are the first to be isolated from donors in developing countries. Before this discovery, researchers had found just four broadly neutralizing antibodies, which were linked to a strain of the HIV virus circulating mainly in the Americas, Europe and Australia.

According to Wayne Koff, senior vice president of research and development at IAVI “the findings are an exciting advance because now we’ve got a new, potentially better, target on HIV to focus our efforts for vaccine design”.

The researchers will now study the antibodies to develop a vaccine.

They must find a harmless piece of the HIV virus, known as an immunogen, which will not cause infection but will stimulate the human body to produce one of these two antibodies. This would then be used as the basis for the vaccine.

In Mozambique the national prevalence of HIV is 16% of people aged between 15 and 49 years.

Worldwide, there are estimated to be 33 million people carrying the HIV virus, with 2 million dying each year from AIDS.

See Related: HEALTH CARE

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