A team led by scientists at The Scripps Research Institute received a $13.2 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health to study antibodies to the disease that causes AIDS, it was announced Thursday.
Antibodies that prove effective would play a role in the creation of a vaccine against human immunodeficiency virus — or HIV.
Richard Wyatt, a TSRI professor of immunology and director of viral immunology for the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative’s Neutralizing Antibody Center at TSRI, will be the principal investigator for the five-year study.
“The long-term goal is to elicit broadly neutralizing antibodies against HIV,” Wyatt said. “This is a difficult task because of the variability of the virus.”
Researchers have been working toward an effective HIV vaccine since the virus was isolated in 1983, but HIV’s unusual structure has helped it evade the immune system and scientists’ attempts to harness the body’s defenses.
Scientists say they’ve found that a few infected people, however, show an effective immune response to the virus.
Certain cells in their immune systems produce antibodies that can neutralize a wide range of HIV strains. Though this does not stop their infections from establishing in their own body, the antibodies neutralize most circulating viruses and could help researchers design an effective vaccine.
According to TSRI, Wyatt and his colleagues hope to find antibodies that can navigate some of HIV’s defensive obstacle course, including an outer layer of sugars that disguise the virus and block attacking immune cells. If they can determine how the effective antibodies work, they’ll be able to generate some that are even more effective.
The researchers also hope to take advantage of one spot on the constantly mutating, shape-changing virus that remains stable. That one unchanging spot is used by HIV to bind to a protein receptor, and if that process could be stopped, the virus would be unable to spread its genetic material and establishing an infection.
Scientists at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm will also take part in the study.
–City News Service
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