Scientists Discover New HIV Weakness That Could Lead To Vaccine

A vulnerable spot has been detected in the virus.

A new study published in Science reports that a team of researchers have discovered a new vulnerable site in HIV which they could target to develop a vaccine.

According to Time, the team at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases “studied the blood of a unique HIV positive person who happened to make antibodies against parts of HIV that aren’t normally targeted, and discovered this special antibody stuck to a part of the virus that it uses to bind to healthy cells. By attaching to the virus at that point, it prevents HIV from properly fusing with the cell and infecting it.”

A blood sample being held with a row of human samples for analytical testing including blood, urine, chemistry, proteins, anticoagulants and HIV in lab
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“The region of the virus that is recognized by the antibody is what’s different here,” says Peter Kwong, chief of structural biology at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and one of the authors of the paper.

“The new target is a part of HIV called the fusion peptide, a string of eight amino acids that helps the virus fuse with a cell to infect it. The fusion peptide has a much simpler structure than other sites on the virus that HIV vaccine scientists have studied,” the research explained.

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 27:  A health educator uses a syringe to take a drop of blood from a man's finger while conducting an HIV test at the Whitman-Walker Health Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center September 27, 2012 in Washington, DC. Whitman-Walker Health is observing the annual National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day with free testing at four different locations in the District of Columbia, where the overall HIV rate is 2.7 percent. Anything over one percent is considered a severe epidemic.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The scientists studied the HIV positive blood of a person who made antibodies against parts of HIV that aren’t usually targeted. They discovered the antibody stuck to the part of the virus that it uses to attach itself to healthy cells in the body. “By attaching to the virus at that point, it prevents HIV from properly fusing with the cell and infecting it,” reports Time.

The discovery of this weakness could help scientists develop a vaccine for the virus by educating the immune system to target the vulnerable area and strengthen itself against the infection.

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