This week, researchers from the National Institutes of Health reported that they’ve found a new “weak spot” in HIV that they hope to be able to exploit to design an effective vaccine. It’s an exciting proposition, as the disease continues to ravage people around the globe while confounding efforts to create an effective cure. This breakthrough wouldn’t lead to a cure for those already infected, but it could dramatically slow the spread of the disease to new people.
The study looked at the antibodies present in an unnamed patient, finding a very strong binder to the HIV viral capsids called VRC34.01, part of a group called broadly neutralizing HIV antibodies (bnAbs). They found that it is effective at stopping HIV from infecting cells, meaning that if they can design a vaccine to prompt the body to release this antibody, it’s possible they could cheaply make most or all people immune.