Researchers target potent HIV antibodies in new study

March 20, 2017

The newly discovered antibodies can fight nearly every strain of HIV in existence, according to study authors.

HIV is a difficult enemy for the body’s immune system to find. Frequent mutations and the HIV cell’s ability to masquerade as human cells and confuse the immune system are two major hurdles.

But a new study has found that chronically infected HIV patients are sometimes able to produce antibodies, that when harnessed, can fight nearly every strain of HIV across the globe.

The study titled “Potent and broad HIV-neutralizing antibodies in memory B cells and plasma” was published recently in Science Immunology.

Researchers in the study were able to isolate rare antibodies, called broadly neutralizing antibodies, that can diffuse several strains of HIV. The study was conducted using B cells and plasma from a chronically infected HIV donor who had produced seven memory B-cell clones that were able to bind to a protein on the HIV cell called the membrane-proximal external region (MPER). One of the clones was effective in neutralizing proteins in 206 of the 208 HIV strains identified globally, according to the study.

HIV cells are notoriously difficult for the body’s immune system to detect and attack, in part because of their ability to mutate, but also because the plasma membrane of HIV cells mimic that of human cells that the body is programmed not to attack.

Next: How plasma antibodies form

 

Powerful discovery

Barton F. Haynes, MD, director of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute, the Frederic M. Hanes professor of medicine and immunology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, and the lead author of the report said the study reveals for the first time how plasma antibodies form-a discovery that could lead to preventive vaccines and curative treatments for HIV.

“We isolated many of these unusual antibodies that were in the same family so that we can have for the first time the pathway of how they developed,” Haynes recently told Medical Economics.
Haynes said the mixtures of the genes of the B cell and plasma antibodies revealed a chimeric antibody that was more potent than most previously isolated.

“We are now developing this and related antibodies in forms that can be used to ferret out hidden virus infected CD4 T cells in HIV infected individuals,” Haynes said.

If successful, the discovery would make the constructed antibody the most potent HIV antibody found to date.

While the research is still in the early stages, Haynes said he hopes his team’s work will lead to the development of both preventive vaccines and curative treatments for HIV. First, more work would need to be done to further develop the antibody, and the team would obtain federal approval for further testing. Haynes said the study could contribute to work investigating holistic treatments that utilize broadly neutralizing antibodies to find HIV cells and point killer T cells in their direction.