HIV has long been seen as unavoidable after exposure to it. Millions of people worldwide have this disease and, until now, there hasn’t been a whole lot that can be done about curing and internally it. Treatments have been developed over the past few decades to suppress the effects of HIV/AIDS, but so far all they have been able to do it prolong the lives of patients while attempting to raise their quality of life. Now, doctors are hopeful that they may have a new drug on their hands that could even serve as a vaccine against HIV, thereby preventing AIDS as well. Vaccines work by helping your body develop a sort of immunity to a given pathogen. They do this by introducing either dead, inactivated, and even live strains of infectious particles and getting the body to respond by making antibodies against them.
During HIV infection, antibodies capable of neutralizing the pathogen are actually made. They are actually the things that recognize the part of a virus that allows it to get into a host cell and then block its entry. They also help block cell-to-cell infection. However, these antibodies are quickly wiped out as the infection takes over. Scientists have been able to isolate and clone the important genes found in these antibodies. The one being used in particular is known as 3BNC117, and is capable of neutralizing more than eighty percent of the virus samples they tested, but is also just one of 500 antibodies scientists had to screen.
To test its effectiveness scientists infused 3BNC117 at different doses to look for positive or negative reactions within the body. The highest dose of infusion, equal to half a teaspoon of antibody, was well-tolerated in the body and actually was found to be neutralizing HIV. The amount of virus circulating in the patients’ blood was found to be in a range between 8 and 300 times less than it was before introducing the antibody. Of course some patients had varying viruses that escaped the neutralizing power of the antibody. This is because 3BNC117 isn’t an all-encompassing treatment, but was still found to be effective.
Because the highest testable dose of 3BNC117 was needed to obtain positive results, they know that a lot of this antibody is going to be needed for this to become a mainstream treatment. However, isolating and replicating such a specific molecule is a very expensive and time consuming task. Despite the twenty percent of virus samples that were unaffected by infusion, this is still really good news. Scientists are still unaware of what results would look like if patients were undergoing continuous treatment as well. They think that using this antibody in combination with existing drug therapy for HIV/AIDS could be the way to go one day.
This study was done in people who already have HIV, but it left scientists thinking about the bigger picture. If a vaccine could be made that contained 3BNC117, it could potentially protect people from HIV infection. We can’t quite call this a cure just yet, but it seems like we are definitely one step closer to finally beating HIV.