New hope in the fight against HIV

Human Immunodeficency Virus ( HIV) infection , which is responsible for taking the lives of more than 25 million people from 1981- 2006, has long troubled scientists because of its extremely high mutation rate: approximately 3 x 10−5 per nucleotide base per cycle of replication. This has made the possibility of vaccines very unlikely, as it would be next to impossible to keep up with the viral mutation rates and new vaccines would have to be developed constantly. However, in a seminal paper published yesterday in the journal of Science has provided evidence that a vaccine may be possible in the near future.  Researchers have found a segment on the viral organism, which remains unchanged through more than 75% of the HIV mutations.  Even more promising, the researchers showed that two antibodies, which they called PG9 and PG16 were able to neutralize HIV infections in almost 80% of all cases. These antibodies were first discovered in the blood of an African AIDS patient. So what is next?  The researchers have said that they hope to to find the region on the HIV virus that the antibodies correspond to, and then recreate it in a harmless form so that it can be used as a vaccine. In an interview with the Toronto Star, Dennis Burton, a senior author on the paper said that this would be the most difficult part. Nonetheless, the finding of this paper is very exciting because for the first time ever, the possibility of a vaccine used to kill one of the most potent, and harmful viruses in our present day may be possible.

By Alisha Jamal, University of Toronto


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