In collaboration with researchers at The Scripps Research Institute, Weill Cornell Medical College, and other institutions, scientists at Rockefeller University are working to harness the natural potential of the human immune system to develop a series of sequential vaccinations against the HIV virus.
Part of what makes HIV such a difficult disease to treat is the fact that it is constantly mutating. However, in some cases, people’s immune systems will also adapt -creating natural antibodies that are effective against the HIV virus. (Image: HIV infected t9 cell - NIAID.nih.gov)
“As HIV mutates in a patient, the immune system continually adapts. In some patients, this process produces broadly neutralizing antibodies, which are unusual antibodies that can bind to and neutralize a wide range of globally occurring HIV variants. These are the antibodies we want to try to elicit with a vaccine,” said first author of the study Pia Dosenovic from Rockefeller University’s Lab of Molecular Immunology.
While the majority of HIV patients have no natural defense against the disease’s constant mutations, some people infected with HIV will naturally develop antibodies that effectively target the virus at various stages. “Our experiments suggest that by stimulating the immune response with tailored immunizations at specific stages, it may be possible to successfully mimic this process,” says co-first author Lotta von Boehmer, also from Rockefeller University.
The study used two antigens, including an engineered antigen that showed promise in early stages of HIV infection by “prompting the antibody-producing B cells to proliferate and produce antibodies with key traits representing a preliminary step toward the production of broadly neutralizing antibodies. Meanwhile, the more natural antigen was more effective later on, inciting the mice to produce antibodies capable of neutralizing a number of different HIV strains.” (rockefeller.edu)
These results suggest that the key to a successful HIV “vaccine” is actually a series of tailored immunizations engineered to guide and bolster the human body’s immune system to produce crucial antibodies that neutralize the virus.
“While our results suggest sequential immunizations may make it possible to vaccinate against HIV, we have only just begun to understand how this sequence would work,” Dosenovic says. “We know the beginning and the end, but we don’t know what should happen in the middle.”
This isn’t the first time that investigators at Rockefeller University have made breakthroughs in HIV and other important areas of medical research. As a leading medical research institution, Rockefeller University is among the most prestigious and highly subsidized facilities in the nation.
- Rockefeller University is in the planning stages of constructing a new $240 million, two-story, 160,000 square foot research building.
- Five new private gifts of over $29 million will be given to Rockefeller University to help offset current federal budget cuts. The gifts range in size from $3 million to $10 million and are a part of fundraising campaign for Collaborative Science, which was established in 2008.
- Rockefeller University was ranked #1 by the CWTS Leiden Ranking for having the highest percentage of frequently cited scientific publications, out of 750 top universities worldwide.
- The Robertson Foundation has gifted $25 million to aid in new techniques for drug discovery at Rockefeller University.
- Five Rockefeller scientists were awarded five-year grants for "high risk research" from the NIH. The rewards, which run over a five-year period, are part of a $155 million NIH awards program for innovative and high-risk disease related research.
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