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Clinical research

Engineered protein shows promise for HIV vaccine development

Researchers create protein that can bind to broadly neutralising antibodies that can target HIV infection.

Micrograph of T cell infected by HIV particles (yellow)

Source: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)

HIV infection (pictured) can cause some people to produce broadly neutralising antibodies, so researchers are trying to reproduce this immune response

Some HIV-infected people naturally produce broadly neutralising antibodies (bnAbs), which can recognise and target the virus. One proposed strategy for HIV vaccine development is to use proteins to stimulate the production of these antibodies from precursor immune cells, but this hasn’t been demonstrated in humans. 

Researchers from the United States created an engineered protein that can bind to bnAb precursors in vitro. Then, using their protein to “probe” B cells from 15 healthy volunteers, they found that most participants had precursor cells present with the ability to mature into bnAbs. These naive cells interacted with the protein despite their frequency being only 1 in 2.4 million. 

The team, who report their findings in Science (online, 25 March 2016)[1], say the results demonstrate the potential of this vaccine strategy, which is soon to be explored in clinical trials.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/CP.2016.20200930

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Supplementary images

  • Micrograph of T cell infected by HIV particles (yellow)

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