March 26, 2012

WELLNESS: A Major Victory Against HIV

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A group of scientists recently discovered a major vulnerability of HIV strains: the antibody PGT 128.

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that prevents the immune system from working properly. This condition cripples the body from defending against infections that are life-threatening.

For decades, scientists have been improving vaccines that allow people with HIV to live longer. But no vaccine could prevent all HIV infections because HIV mutates quickly. The recent discovery of the antibody PGT 128 is groundbreaking due to its unprecedented effectiveness on a broad range of HIV strains.

An antibody PGT 128 attaches to an HIV strain and penetrates its glycan shield. Glycan shields are what normally protect the strain from the body’s immune system, but the antibody PGT 128 binds to the strains and reaches through the glycan shield. Finally, it neutralizes the strain by passing through the shield and grabbing the protein called GP120.

Scientists predict that PGT 128 is effective against HIV strains precisely because most of them have glycan shields. How broad are its effects? Researchers from the United States, United Kingdom, Japan and the Netherlands tested blood of HIV-positive volunteers and concluded that PGT 128 is effective against 70% of HIV strains.

Although the antibody does not provide a solution to all HIV infected people around the world, scientists are optimistic about finding a potential lifetime cure because of the success of this research. “We’ll probably need multiple targets on the virus for a successful vaccine, but certainly PGT 128 shows us a very good target,” said Dennis Burton, a Professor at The Scripps Research Institute and scientific director of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative’s (IAVI) Neutralizing Antibody Center, in a press release.

Perhaps the most exciting fact is not that PGT 128 can neutralize about 70 percent of the world’s HIV strains. It’s the finding that most HIV strains, despite their unpredictable mutations, share common structures that can make them vulnerable to certain antibodies, providing hope that we can fight the virus more effectively.

For more information, check out this Scripps Research page.

Junsuk Ahn is a sophomore in the College of Human Ecology. He may be reached at jahn@cornellsun.com. The Missing Link: Health, Nutrition and Wellness appears on Tuesdays.

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Original Author: Junsuk Ahn

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