A sweet discovery: By Danielle-Marie Lemieux


A sweet discovery: How antibodies targeting the sugar-coat may lead to an effective HIV vaccine

Vaccine development is a leading area of research within HIV/AIDS. But even after 30 years of research a working vaccine still evades us. Does something sweet hold the key? Leading researchers in the field of glycoproteins thinks it just might!

HIV is a highly variable virus with many subtypes and is prone to high rates of mutation. It is this high rate of variability that has made finding an effective vaccine so difficult. Vaccines typically are made from dead or weakened virus that forces the immune system to produce antibodies (proteins that usually seek out and attach to certain proteins on an invader marking it for removal). This approach however has not worked against HIV because the viruses proteins are hid under a sugary outer coating, which is made with the infected persons own sugars. This renders the person’s immune system unable to recognize the virus as an invader. This changeability also means that antibodies that work to deactivate one strain may not work on another.

However, the recent discovery of potent broad-spectrum antibodies (isolated from HIV positive persons) that attack this coat may just revolutionize our search for a successful vaccine. Dr. Wilson and his team at the IAVI Neutralizing Antibody Center at the Scripps Research Institute have been looking at these antibodies called PG’s and PGT’s to better understand which part of the virus they attack as they have shown the ability to render up to 80% of HIV-1 subtypes unproductive. As such, a vaccine that could prompt the body to make these antibodies would offer comprehensive protection for an immunized person.

Their research has shown that many of these antibodies are able to attach to two of the sugars as well as penetrate the sugar coat and attach to a part of a protein underneath. It is through research into how this binding occurs that may allow us to produce a vaccine that will force a healthy person’s immune system to produce antibodies similar to these. So let’s keep our fingers crossed that this sweet research might just be the answer!