A collaboration of American investigators say that it discovered a part of a human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) protein that may hamper with the microorganism's ability to adapt and evolve.
Being able to do this is one of the main advantages that the virus has in its race against human vaccine designers. The agent can adapt to whatever therapies to throw against it by mutating rapidly to counteract the damaging effects.
By hampering its ability to mutate, researchers could stabilize the virus in a setup that could then be attacked using other drugs. Unable to change, HIV would eventually be destroyed. In this way, it may soon become possible to cure AIDS.
Experts from the Ragon Institute at the Massachusetts General Hospital, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
(MIT) and Harvard University worked together to achieve this important breakthrough.
What the new vaccine would do is hamper the organism's fitness, as in its ability to survive. Experts at Ragon focused their attention on a HIV polyprotein called Gag, which they say is responsible for giving HIV much of its structure.
This molecule is made up of five co-evolving groups of amino acids, and the research team found that one of the sectors in these groups, called sector 3, was the most likely to experience negative effects from multiple mutations.
As such, this part of the protein could become the next target for vaccines, and also the jump-start molecule that experts will use to prime the immune system for its fight against HIV. Vaccines always administer a small dose of the viral agent to humans, so that the immune system learns to spot it.
“Even though we have treatments, the number of people in need globally is outpacing our ability to provide these drugs. The only real solution is development of an effective vaccine,” says Bruce Walker.
The expert holds an appointment as the director of the Ragon Institute, and he is also a professor at the Harvard Medical School. The researcher was the lead author of the new study, which is detailed in the June 20 issue of the esteemed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
The new work “breaks new ground in terms of vaccine design and potential insights into why elite controllers are more effective at controlling HIV infection, and it provides additional protein regions to examine,” comments Rafi Ahmed, a professor of immunology at the Emory University Vaccine Center.