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Recent Discovery Places Scientists Closer to Developing HIV Vaccine

Apr 03, 2013 03:55 PM EDT

Having mapped out what they're calling a road map of the arms race between HIV and an infected person's antibodies, scientists believe they may have a clearer view than ever before as to how to go about developing a viable vaccine against the virus.

Published in the journal Nature, the study is based on a patient in Africa whose diagnosis only four weeks after infection enabled scientists to watch closely as the individual's body geared up to try to fight off the disease.

In doing so, they were able to identify an antibody, named CH103, capable of effectively neutralizing 55 percent of HIV samples.

Such an anitbody is not something the body is capable of producing overnight; rather, it is the outcome of constant evolution. And it was this process, complex and intricate, that previously kept scientists from fully grasping how it is done, which in turn limited their ability to recreate their own.

As Duke University Professor Harton Haynes explains, a future vaccine would, based on the discovery, likely enable involve antibodies capable of neutralizing not just one, but huge swathes of HIV mutants or, as Haynes puts it, multiple of the virus's Achilles' heels.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), there are an estimated 1,148,200 people ages 13 and older living with HIV, more than 200,000 of which are not aware they are infected. In total, since the epidemic began in 1981, roughly 1.2 million have been diagnosed with AIDS.

And while stories of the initial outbreak focused around San Fransisco, Calif., numbers show that cases today are disproportionately focused in the South. At the end of 2010, the CDC estimated that 45 percent of the 33,015 new AIDS diagnoses took place there, followed by the Northeast wtih 24 percent, the West with 19 percent and the Midwest with 13 percent.

Jane Anderson is a consultant at Homerton hopsital in London and the chair of the Biritsh HIV Association. 

"The study gives important insights into the ways in which the human immune system responds to HIV infection and increases our understanding about the relationships between the virus and the human host," Anderson told the BBC. "This is another welcome step on the path to develop vaccines against HIV."

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