A new study suggests that an AIDS vaccine may be just around the corner.
Resulting in the death of over 2 million people a year, AIDS remains one of the world’s deadliest diseases. In parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 20% of the population is infected with the virus, and though the rates are beginning to stabilize, the percentage remains alarmingly high. While a variety of preventive and treatment options have been instituted in the regions hardest hit by the virus, a vaccine stills appears to be the most effective means to meeting the UN Millennium Project goal of eradicating the disease.
Thus far, the biggest obstacle to HIV/AIDS research has been the ability of the virus to mutate, creating new strains resistant to all forms of existing treatment. But researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease in Bethesda, Md. have made a surprising new discovery. Two powerful antibodies—referred to as VRC01 and VRC02—successfully neutralize 90% of HIV strains. These antibodies, or proteins that assist the immune system in combating infectious diseases, inactivate most forms of the virus and prevent it from entering otherwise healthy cells.
For scientists, the next step is to design a vaccine capable of manipulating the immune system to produce these effective antibodies. According to Peter Kwong, a structural biologist at the National Institute, a vaccine is highly probable. “The answer is going to be there, and it’s going to be doable,” he said. It may take close to five years to develop a clinical trial, but for the millions of people already infected, the possibility of a cure is well-worth the wait.
More on global health: the summer issue (Prevent and Cure) is now online and on newsstands.