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A natural approach for HIV vaccine
Date:3/15/2009

For 25 years, researchers have tried and failed to develop an HIV vaccine, primarily by focusing on a small number of engineered "super antibodies" to fend off the virus before it takes hold. So far, these magic bullet antibodies have proved impossible to produce in people. Now, in research to be published March 15 online by Nature, scientists at The Rockefeller University have laid out a new approach. They have identified a diverse team of antibodies in "slow-progressing" HIV patients whose coordinated pack hunting knocks down the virus just as well as their super-antibody cousins fighting solo.

By showcasing the dynamic, natural immune response in these exceptional patients, the research, led by Michel C. Nussenzweig, Sherman Fairchild Professor and head of the Laboratory of Molecular Immunology, suggests that an effective HIV vaccine may come from a shotgun approach using of a wide range of natural antibodies rather than an engineered magic bullet.

"We wanted to try something different, so we tried to reproduce what's in the patient. And what's in the patient is many different antibodies that individually have limited neutralizing abilities but together are quite powerful," says Nussenzweig, who also is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. "This should make people think about what an effective vaccine should look like."

HIV strains mutate rapidly, making them especially wily adversaries of the immune system. But one element is shared almost universally among the diverging strains a protein on the envelope of the virus called gp140 that HIV needs to infect immune cells. Prior research has shown that four randomly engineered antibodies that block the activity of that protein prevent the virus from infecting immune cells in culture, but all attempts to coax the human body into producing those four have failed.

So Johannes Scheid, a visiting student in Nussenzweig's lab who is now a doctoral candidate,
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Contact: Brett Norman
bnorman@rockefeller.edu
212-327-7613
Rockefeller University
Source:Eurekalert

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