A new study published in Science Immunology offers an intriguing new insight into the HIV virus.
Scientists have identified and described the immunological profile of some people with HIV who are better able to resist the effects of the deadly condition.
A team led by researchers from Duke University in Durham, NC, studied blood samples taken from people with HIV. They selected 51 people with high levels of bNAbs and 51 people with few or no bNAbs.
They found that many of the changes in immune cell function that stem from chronic HIV infection are linked with high bNAb levels.
The variations included:
– Higher levels of autoantibodies – a type of antibody that attacks the patient’s own cells
– Lower levels of T cells that regulate the immune system; these T cells were less active
– Higher levels of memory T follicular helper immune cells.
Results suggest that bNAb production may correlate with specific differences in individual immune functions, and that these differences could occur when HIV infection is not kept under control.
Previous research has indicated that monoclonal antibodies, or mabs, can protect against HIV infection in monkeys.
And it is known that the bodies of some patients who live with HIV naturally produce a type of antibody known as broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs).
Scientists believe that any successful vaccine against HIV must be able to induce bNAbs, as research on HIV continues to develop.
And the study suggests that in those individuals with this particular immune system profile, the activity of antibody-producing immune cells, known as B cells, could be less restricted.
These conditions could make some people more likely to produce protective bNAbs, and ultimately fight off the development of full-blown AIDS from the HIV virus.
It is thought that bNAbs may help to suppress the virus in people who have them by neutralizing a number of HIV viral strains.
However, bNAbs cannot completely clear HIV infections in people who already have HIV, meaning that this may not be a silver bullet in the fight against the STD.
But scientists hope that the new insights into bNAbs could be a step toward developing a successful vaccine to prevent the virus.
The next step is to attempt to replicate the conditions naturally prevalent in some individuals in those who do not have the HIV infection, via a vaccine solution.
This innovative study was supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health.
An estimated 103,700 people are living with HIV in the UK.
Of these, it is estimated that 17% are undiagnosed and do not know about their HIV infection.
In 2014, 613 people with HIV died.