An effective HIV vaccine may be a short step away now scientists have overcome a major stumbling block hindering its development. The big hurdle has been the inability to generate immune cells that stay in circulation long enough to stop the Aids virus spreading.
International researchers believe they have solved the problem by “unblocking” a process linked to an HIV protein that was halting the production of antibody-generating “B-cells” from the immune system.
Lead scientist Professor Jonathan Heeney, from Cambridge University, said: “For a vaccine to work, its effects need to be long lasting.
“It isn’t practical to require people to come back every six to 12 months to be vaccinated. We wanted to develop a vaccine to overcome this block and generate these long-lived antibody producing cells. We have now found a way to do this.
“What we have found is a way to greatly improve B-cell responses to an HIV vaccine. We hope our discovery will unlock the paralysis in the field of HIV vaccine research and enable us to move forward.” The researchers compared their achievement, reported in the Journal of Virology, to “preventing a key getting stuck in a lock”.
In laboratory experiments the new approach produced desired immune system responses that lasted more than a year. In future it should be possible to produce vaccines that stimulate long-lasting B-cell responses against HIV, the scientists believe.
Prof Heeney added: “B-cells need time to make highly effective neutralising antibodies, but in previous studies B-cell responses were so short lived they disappeared before they had the time to make all the changes necessary to create the ‘silver bullets’ to stop HIV.
“We hope our discovery will unlock the paralysis in the field of HIV vaccine research and enable us to move forward.”