Further Advances in the Search For an HIV Vaccine

HIV is a remarkable organism. While it may be microscopic, the activities that go on are quite impressive. At the very least, there is a lot of work that occurs in the virus’ life. It is the study of some of these functions which has scientists hopeful that a new vaccine may be just around the corner. One study in particular has caught some special attention.

The HIV itself looks like a spiny or spiky ball. At the ends of these spikes are three proteins. These are special proteins and they are called gp120. The way they are arranged on their spikes resembles the petals of a flower, in that they can open and close. The gp120 molecules have specific functions or jobs to do. One of those includes helping the virus bind to other cells. The proteins can also stay closed and hide these binding areas. Think of an airplane coming in to land on a landing strip. If the strip is concealed, the plane will fly right over it. HIV works in a similar way when it comes to the immune system. The immune system sends out antibodies in an attempt to fight the infection. These antibodies hunt the HIV and look to destroy it; however, the gp120 can keep the HIV safe by concealing the landing space or binding area. If the antibodies cannot bind with the virus, infection occurs.

Each of the proteins on the HIV is equipped with tiny molecules called amino acids. Scientists have discovered that by altering certain levels, the amino acids can either open or close the gp120 proteins. This is good news, as by controlling this process, scientists can help the immune system find and kill the virus before infection takes place. This means that if further testing is successful, effective HIV vaccines may be appearing in the near future.