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Published on : Oct 30, 2017

Developing an efficacious vaccine against the HIV-1 virus calls for inducing our immune system to generate neutralizing antibody responses against sugars that form a sort of protective shield against several HIV strains. Researchers at the Duke University, North Carolina and the University of Maryland designed a novel protein-sugar vaccine candidate in an animal model and found it effective in breaking the shield. In the not-so-distant future, the molecule may prove a promising candidate for designing a powerful HIV vaccine. The vaccine candidate was developed with the help of HIV protein molecule called envelope glycoprotein gp120 that acted as a protective shield for the virus.

The study is detailed in a paper published on October 26, 2017 in Cell Chemical Biology. The scientists used rabbits as animal models and injected in them a protein fragment coming from gp120 linked to a sugar group. They found that the molecule caused an immune response in them against these sugar shields enveloping gp120 in four different HIV strains.

Vaccine Candidate could generate Substantial Antibodies against Sugar Shield

Earlier efforts to use gp120 failed for two reasons: firstly the sugar molecule shield resembles the sugar found in human body, and secondly because HIV virus mutates constantly. The scientist used a small fragment of the protein molecule that is common across common HIV strains.

A synthetic chemistry method to combine gp120 fragment with a sugar molecule. The protein-sugar molecule triggered rabbits to produce antibodies and targeted the lethal sugar shields. Though, unsurprisingly, the scientists found that the antibody responses caused did not prevent live virus from infecting healthy cells, since the study lasted only two months compared to two years usually taken in humans for developing immunity against the virus. However, they contended that the results are encouraging since they could show the production of a large number of antibodies in such a short time.

Longer-term studies in combination with other vaccine candidates are required to increase the response of antibodies.