Are we finally on the road toward an HIV vaccine?

If I had a dollar for every time I read a headline like that.

But, if we are to believe what writer Jackie Flynn Mogensen reveals in this article, we could be closer than ever:

So, if researchers do manage to create an HIV vaccine that works, it has to clear several complicated hurdles. It will have to A) offer broad protection against an enormous number of variants; B) teach our bodies how to do something we don’t normally do on our own; and C) do this in such a way that offers total immunity. It’s largely because of these challenges that we don’t have an HIV vaccine today, and in part why several major clinical trials for potential vaccines have been unsuccessful; for every strategy we’ve thrown at HIV, the virus has found a way around it.

“It’s the Holy Grail of vaccines,” Haynes says.

The good news is, after spending years learning how HIV works (and enduring repeated clinical failures), many leading HIV researchers I spoke with say they have finally singled out—and tested—the right tool to fight the virus: rare, powerful antibodies known as “broadly neutralizing antibodies,” or bnAbs. Some people produce these antibodies after years of infection.

In general, infection-blocking antibodies work like this: When a virus enters your body, antibodies recognize and attach themselves to proteins on the surface of viruses, preventing those pathogens from entering our cells, and protecting us from getting sick. But because HIV mutates so easily, the virus’ surface can look pretty different between variants, making it difficult for antibodies to keep up. There are, however, a few parts of the virus that don’t change much between variants, like the virus’ “Achilles heel.” Antibodies that attach to those spots are known as broadly neutralizing.

You can read the rest here.

Scanning electron micrograph of HIV-1 (in green) budding from cultured lymphocyte. Multiple round bumps on cell surface represent sites of assembly and budding of virions. (Wikimedia Commons: C. Goldsmith Content Providers)

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