"The discovery of these exceptionally broadly neutralizing antibodies to HIV and the structural analysis that explains how they work are exciting advances that will accelerate our efforts to find a preventive HIV vaccine for global use," Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a release. "In addition, the technique the teams used to find the new antibodies represents a novel strategy that could be applied to vaccine design for many other infectious diseases."
Led by a team from the NIAID Vaccine Research Center, the scientists found two naturally occurring, powerful antibodies called VRC01 and VRC02 in an HIV-infected individual's blood using a new molecular device that hones in on specific cells that make antibodies against the human immunodeficiency virus.
The scientists learned that the two antibodies neutralize more HIV strains with greater overall strength than previously known antibodies to the virus.
They also determined the atomic-level structure of VRC01 when it is attaching to HIV, enabling the team to define how the antibody works and to precisely locate where it attaches to the virus, the institute said.
"The antibodies attach to a virtually unchanging part of the virus, and this explains why they can neutralize such an extraordinary range of HIV strains," said John Mascola, the research center's deputy director.
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