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Discoveries Brighten Search for AIDS Vaccine
Date:9/3/2009

Two antibodies appear effective against HIV subtypes worldwide, team says

THURSDAY, Sept. 3 (HealthDay News) -- After recent setbacks, the search for an effective AIDS vaccine may have gotten a much needed shot in the arm with the discovery of two highly potent targets for immunization.

A team coordinated by the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) says they've discovered two immune-system antibodies in the blood of an African person with HIV that might offer protection against strains of the virus circulating worldwide.

These antibodies target a spot on HIV that is both easily accessed and "highly conserved," meaning it does not seem to change over time.

The findings, announced in the Sept. 4 issue of Science, may be "a new lease on life, a new key towards accelerating AIDS vaccine development," said Wayne Koff, senior vice president of research and development for IAVI, which is based in New York City.

Antibodies, immune cell-generated molecules that mark invading pathogens for destruction, are the lynchpin of any effective vaccine. Vaccines work by spurring the body to produce copious amounts of targeted antibodies when the real invader -- the flu, measles, or other such germ -- appears.

But the search for a vaccine against HIV has been perhaps the toughest yet. That's because it mutates so rapidly and "is different all over the world at a scale that's dwarfed any other virus," Koff said. In fact, experts estimate that the pool of HIV circulating in one infected person contains as many variants as all of the flu viruses circulating globally in a given year.

In recent years, the only two AIDS vaccine candidates that have made it to clinical trials have failed, causing some to doubt whether an effective shot might ever be found.

Four other antibodies to HIV were identified earlier, the last one over a decade ago. However, according to Rowena Johnston, direc
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