HIV vaccine technology may have taken a huge step forward recently, thanks to researchers at the University of Montreal in Canada.
Until now, a major problem facing doctors and scientists hoping to find a vaccine and/or cure for HIV has been the unique way that the virus manages to evade the human immune system.
While the host body creates antibodies against HIV, the virus remains the equivalent to a tightly sealed can – antibodies are unable to reach the most vulnerable parts of the virus in order to eliminate the infection.
But a recently developed molecule known as JP-III-48 has had a groundbreaking impact on samples from HIV-positive patients – according to researchers, the molecule has the ability to act like a microscopic can-opener, revealing the inner workings of the virus to potential antibodies.
Understanding The Study
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Researchers on the recent study(1) explain the complex process:
“The virus has to get rid of the CD4 proteins to protect itself,” Jonathan Richard, the study’s lead author, explains – CD4 proteins are located in T-cells, and allow for the immune system to be infected by HIV.
“Adding the small molecule forces the viral envelop to open, like a flower. The antibodies that are naturally present after the infection can then target the infected cells so they are killed by the immune system.”(2)
In other words, this new molecule may just provide the human body with the opportunity it needs to fight the HIV virus effectively.
Looking At Current HIV Treatments
Scientists have been working around the clock to devise a vaccine or cure for HIV/AIDS for decades, ever since the devastating impact that the massive outbreak known as the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s had on marginalized communities, especially LGBT individuals. Activists, along with scientists, have been behind the push for a cure.
Antiretroviral drugs are currently used to slow the spread of the virus and prevent HIV from escalating into the AIDS virus. Combined with lifestyle factors, many individuals living with HIV rely on this “shock and kill” therapy to keep their T-cell counts under control.
But while many individuals living with HIV today have higher quality of life standards than previous generations of HIV sufferers did, a vaccine or a cure seems a long way off still.
Implications For Future Treatment
This new discovery could help researchers develop a two-part vaccine to prevent HIV infection. Using this new family of molecules, antibodies are more easily generated, and can attack the virus on a cellular level.
But this discovery also is helping to pave the way for the development of a cure for individuals already infected with HIV and AIDS as well.
Researchers hope that the next step in looking at this molecule is to test its “can-opener” effect in monkeys.