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.”
“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.
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.