Research in monkeys may pave the way for HIV cure

In a ground-breaking revelation that may well pave the way for a potential vaccine to thwart the dreaded HIV virus, researchers have found that a concoction of antibodies has the potency to keep the virus at bay for weeks.

Two studies; one conducted by scientists at Harvard University and the other carried out by U.S. government researchers found that the infusion of rare antibodies, produced by less than a fifth of people infected with HIV, tends to thwart wide array of the virus strains.

Study Findings

These antibodies latch onto the regions of the virus that are highly “conserved” and do not allow it to spread, reveal the studies.

“These are the Ferraris of antibodies,” lead author of the study, Dr Dan Barouch, director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and a professor at Harvard Medical School said.

“Nobody, including ourselves, has been able to develop a vaccine that can generate immune responses that are even close,” confessed Dr Barouch.

Study Methodology

For the purpose of the study, both the research teams tested the antibodies in the rhesus monkeys infected with the Simian-human immunodeficiency virus, the monkey version of HIV virus that causes AIDS.

The Harvard study revealed that an antibody called PGT121 was the most efficacious. The antibody reduced the virus to untraceable levels in 16 of 18 monkeys within a seven day period.

“Basically, that antibody, given either alone or in combination, resulted in a dramatic effect,” Barouch said.

The other study conducted by scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a part of the National Institutes of Health, revealed analogous results.

While the initial results are encouraging, these antibodies have to be tested in humans now. Another area of research that needs to be explored is the usage of these antibodies in combination with antiretroviral treatments.

Dr Barouch strongly believes that such a combination will have a great impact as antiretroviral drugs kill the machinery used by the HIV virus to replicate itself while the antibodies attack the free virus particles in the blood as well as in cells.