Antibodies, also known as Y-shaped proteins produced by plasma cells, play an important role in keeping us healthy and free from infection. Now, HIV research scientists have identified a protein known as bNAbs. It stands for ‘broadly neutralizing antibodies’ and it may hold the promise of preventing HIV infections. The virus has spikes on it – not unlike many villains – and it uses these to bind and take over healthy cells.

The envelope spike or protein is the preferred target for the bNAbs. They are well equipped to recognize and subdue the virus. However, each type of bNAb is programmed to target specific epitopes or antigens on the spike. Certain bNAbs, therefore, have greater success in suppressing the virus than others. What most known bNAbs do have in common is that they tend to recognize the envelope spike in its closed position.

A virus will attach itself to a healthy cell, but in doing so the spike will open and close – depending on the stage it’s in. One lab has discovered a particular bNAb that can detect the virus when the spike is closed but also when it is partially opened. It was found while the research team was studying the antibodies of those whose bodies successfully control the HIV infection on their own. What is this special antibody called? 8ANC195. Continued efforts to see how 8ANS195 does what it does may lead to big things.

This could prove extremely beneficial in aiding those who are battling with HIV infection. These bNAbs could prove invaluable in identifying and neutralizing HIV that has gone undetected by the immune system. Seeing as most bNAbs target the virus when the envelope spike is closed, the virus with an open spike is free to continue unhindered. Now, with the discovery of antibodies that can detect the virus in its different forms, treatments can be more effective.

For HIV research, the promise of hope offered by these special bNAbs comes with more good news – it could be available in treatments in a short period of time. Clinical trials are already under way. Also, plans to make the antibodies even more effective are in the works. Researchers feel that introducing this bNAb to the cocktail will enhance the treatment therapies currently used.