July 8, 2010

Breakthrough in HIV/AIDS Prevention

by Heather Falconer

In the US each year, an estimated 56,300 people are newly infected with HIV and, according to the CDC, approximately 21% of HIV-positive individuals don’t even know they carry the virus. It is a disease that continues to spread, despite widespread education efforts, and to many people without the resources for medical care sounds the death knell. But now there’s more hope.

Who would have thought that just 30 years after the first known cases of HIV and AIDS were recorded in the United States we’d have a potential cure? In tomorrow’s edition of Science, NIH-sponsored scientists explain how they have identified two antibodies, known as VRCO1 and VRCO2, that are able to prevent most known HIV strains from infecting human cells. This could lead not only to the development of an HIV vaccine, but to vaccines for other diseases as well.

As described in the research, the scientists devised a new molecular device that isolates antibodies produced in the blood of HIV-positive individuals. The device itself is a protein that is designed to bind with a vulnerable spot on the virus, thus blocking its ability to infect other cells. According to the researchers, the site where the protein binds happens to be one that is relatively unchanging, which explains why it is able to neutralize a wide variety of HIV forms.

Not only does this discovery mean that we could see an end to HIV/AIDS in the no-too-distant future, but the research methods employed could lead scientists to trying similar things with other diseases. Tomorrow’s release of the research could mark the start of an entirely new approach to vaccine-creation, and have significant effects on the world’s health moving forward.

Heather Falconer

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Heather Falconer holds undergraduate degrees in Graphic Arts and Environmental Science, as well as an MFA in Writing and an MLitt in Literature. She is currently completing her PhD in Rhetoric and Composition, with an emphasis on rhetoric in/and/of science. Heather has worked internationally in academic publishing as both an author and editor, and has taught a wide range of topics – from research writing to marine biology – in the public and private educational sectors.