New HIV Vaccination Strategy Holds Promise

November 13, 2019

An effective HIV vaccine has proven elusive, but a new type of vaccine may provide results.

Scientists have established a new strategy to develop an HIV vaccine that could be more effective in creating a successful vaccine.

The scientists at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle have developed a unique process that uses a chunk of protein as “bait” for rare white blood cells-attracting the rare B cells and then multiplying the cells once they bind with the protein, according to a release from the organization.

“The kind of vaccine strategy that we are talking about is very different than all other vaccines that are on the market” Justin Taylor, PhD, an immunologist at the center, said of the innovative strategy.

Once the protein and B cells bind together they are able to provide more long-lasting immune response after some additional injections, the researchers said.

Historically, it has been difficult to develop a vaccine for HIV because of the disease’s ability to mutate and the need for much stronger antibodies for a vaccine to be effective.

In this new approach, however, scientists are trying to find a way to coax the body to produce more of the rare “broadly neutralizing antibodies” that could be effective in a vaccine.

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“They retain their effectiveness across changing strains of HIV because to slip free of these immune proteins the virus would have to undergo extreme mutations of its surface structures, making it no longer able to infect or replicate,” the release said.

The scientists work has begun by identifying the rare precursor B cells. In a recent 2019 study in The Journal of Experimental Medicine, researchers were able to use an anti-idiotypic antibody to recognize and expand rare B cells that express a specific antibody used to fight against HIV in mice.

Another companion paper gave details on how researchers were able to use precursor cells to broadly neutralize another antibody, known as b12. 

“It can be done with different lineages of B cells, and it should be possible for other viruses with difficult-to-make vaccines, such as dengue virus,” Taylor said of both study’s discoveries.

Scientists continue to investigate the innovative approach; however, if it is successful, it could have important implications for a potential HIV vaccine.

While treatment and prevention options have improved for HIV in recent decades, it’s estimated that approximately 1.1. million people are currently living in the United States with HIV, according HIV.gov.