Natural Immunity to HIV Could Lead to HIV Vaccine

Scanning electron micrograph of HIV-1 (in green) budding from cultured lymphocyte (a type of white blood cell). Multiple round bumps on cell surface represent sites of assembly and budding of virions. (CDC / C. Goldsmith / P. Feorino / E. L. Palmer / W. R. McManus)

Scientists Identify Factors That Make People Naturally Resistant to H.I.V.

by Bob Roehr

Developing an H.I.V. vaccine has been a perplexing challenge that has mostly resulted in failure, but now scientists have identified key factors that allow some people to naturally suppress the H.I.V. virus—work that could lead to better vaccines to both treat and prevent the infection. Researchers believe they have identified crucial points on the virus’s surface where the immune system can successfully attack H.I.V.

The research, conducted by the Ragon Institute, a collaboration of various affiliates of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is presented in a new paper published in the journal Science. It builds on a study of two small groups of people who are naturally able to control the spread of H.I.V. much better than the average patient.

“What takes medicine forward is really learning from patients,” says Bruce Walker, director of the Ragon Institute and senior author of the study. “It’s seeing something in the clinic that doesn’t fit the usual pattern, like somebody who is doing really well despite being H.I.V. infected, that identifies the outliers that ultimately are so critical to explaining the whole disease process.”

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