It seems like finally we are getting somewhere with that holy grail, a vaccine that protects against HIV. Two very promising new studies have recently been published at the same time in the journals Cell and Science.  The ultimate aim of the research is to design a vaccine that produces antibodies that would bind to HIV and prevent infection. This has been difficult so far because HIV is so good at evading detection by the immune system and also because it mutates so rapidly.

The researchers in the new studies therefore looked at using related proteins called immunogens to train the immune system to produce these elusive antibodies. The team found one, eOD-GT8 60mer, that appears to do just this. The immunogen produces antibody precursors that has the ability to recognise and block HIV. The immunogen was designed by a team at the Scripps Research Institute’s (TSRI) International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) , and the researchers stated that the results were spectacular. It has so far been tested in various mouse, rabbit and non human primate models and it was found to be effective in priming the immune system to block HIV.

Vaccines typically use a dead or inactive version of the virus to provoke antibodies but we know this doesn’t work in the case of HIV, because it is so good at evading the immune system. This is why they are looking at alternative ways of producing this antibody response.

The researchers will now be looking for other immunogens that they could use alongside this current one, to see if they could use this in a package to develop a viable HIV vaccine. They are also investigating if it could be used as the first of a series of immunisations against HIV, similar to the booster shots we get with other vaccines.

Hopefully this means we are finally making some real progress.