How Broadly Neutralizing Antibodies May Change the World for HIV

One of the things that make it so difficult for scientists to discover a vaccine or a cure for HIV is that the virus rapidly mutates. There are many strains of HIV around the world, mainly due to the virus’s propensity to mutate several times within a person in an effort to fight against treatment that is tailored to that individual. Broadly neutralizing HIV antibodies, however, can take on various versions of the retrovirus that are found across the globe.

Much of the data comes from the body of one woman in Africa whose immune system started creating these antibodies spontaneously when she became infected with the virus. Researchers were able to identify these antibodies within the woman, extract them, and proceeded to create clones of the antibodies in a laboratory. After conducting multiple experiments, the scientists postulated these so-called broadly neutralizing HIV antibodies could be the future of HIV research.

One thing researchers looked for is how the antibodies developed. They believe that this may be the key to unlocking a vaccine for HIV. Most people who become infected with the virus do produce antibodies, and thus able to be tested as positive, but do not create broadly neutralizing HIV antibodies and cannot effectively combat HIV in its multiple forms as the virus evades treatment within the body.

Animal studies are the next step for these broad-spectrum antibodies. Once they are deemed safe and effective, human trials follow. Scientists are in the process of cloning the antibodies to ensure supply lasts through the various levels of testing, and hopefully reach one step closer to a HIV vaccine, leading to disease eradication one day—just like smallpox.