Researchers Progress Toward AIDS Vaccine
Gail Ferstandig Arnold and Eddy Arnold may have turned a corner in their search for a vaccine against HIV – the virus responsible for AIDS. In a paper published in the Journal of Virology, the duo and their colleagues reported on their research progress.
With the support of the National Institutes of Health and International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, the Arnolds and their team have been able to take a piece of HIV that is involved with helping the virus enter cells, put it on the surface of a common cold virus, and then immunize animals with it. They found that the animals made antibodies that can stop an unusually diverse set of HIV isolates or varieties.
While researchers previously had been able to elicit effective antibodies, they usually only acted against a very limited number of HIV types. With HIV’s known propensity to mutate, antibodies developed against one local strain may not recognize and combat mutant varieties elsewhere. The challenge is to find a broad spectrum vaccine capable of protecting against the HIV varieties.
The Rutgers team identified a part of the AIDS virus that is crucial to its viability – something it needs in order to complete its life cycle – and then targeted this Achilles heel. In this case, the part plays a role in the ability of HIV to enter cells and is common to most HIV.
The Arnolds are members of the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine, a joint research institute of Rutgers and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Also, Gail Ferstandig Arnold is a research professor and Eddy Arnold is a professor, both in Rutgers’ Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology.
While most vaccines are actually made from the pathogen itself, employing weakened or inactivated organisms to stimulate antibody production, HIV is just too dangerous to use as the basis for a vaccine vehicle. Instead, they used the relatively innocuous cold-causing rhinovirus and attached the target portion of the HIV. This must be done in a way that maintains the HIV part’s shape so that when the immune system sees it, it will actually mount an immune response as it would to the real HIV.
Using recombinant engineering, the research team developed a method to systematically test millions of varied presentation of the HIV segment with the rhinovirus. They tried millions of different variations on how to graft (or splice) one on to the other, creating what are called combinatorial libraries.
“The really exciting part is that we were able to find viruses that could elicit antibodies against a huge variety of isolates of HIV. That is an immense step and a very important step,” said Gail Ferstandig Arnold.
“However, we need to be careful to not overstate things because the quantity of response is not huge, but it is significant,” added Eddy Arnold. “This is actually the first demonstration of this particular Achilles heel being presented in way to generate a relevant immune response. It is probably not potent enough by itself to be the vaccine or a vaccine, but it is a proof of principle that what we are trying to do is a very sound idea.”
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