HIV’s Ability to Disguise Itself: Can a Vaccine Hit a Moving Target?

The quest to eradicate HIV is proving to be an extremely difficult. One of the reasons for this is due to HIV’s ability to disguise itself. It is like a shifting and ever-changing target that the immune system finds impossible to keep up with. Determining how best to neutralize and beat the infection, and to solve this part of the puzzle, has been the subject of much debate and study. One recent bit of information could help move the process along and, perhaps, could even result in an effective vaccine.

Antibodies are specially designed to attack intruders that invade the body. They do this, and remarkably well, by attaching themselves to the invader. Thankfully, there are known antibodies that can neutralize HIV. The problem is, once danger is detected, the virus is able to shift the location where antibodies attach to HIV. By doing this, the virus evades the host’s immune response and continues to infect nearby cells.

One research team did find that there are sites on the virus that do not shift as readily. Another encouraging finding is the most effective antibodies latch onto these sites and destroy the virus before it has an opportunity to escape. Even when the site shifts, some of the antibodies were able to follow the shift and enter at the new site. This important information could not only lead to new vaccines against HIV but to other difficult viral infections, as well.

Further research is needed to learn how best to target the virus. Moreover, additional study of these antibodies, and how to increase their number within the body, will aid in developing new vaccines and treatments. Further investigation into HIV’s ability to disguise itself will help in identifying the best sites on the virus for antibodies to access. In the meantime, researchers are optimistic that this new information has put them on the path to winning the war against HIV.