The researchers – a host of scientists who teamed together to form the Glycoscience at the Crossroad of Health, Materials and Energy symposium – said a vaccine for the disease has been difficult to develop because there are many different strains.
However now thanks to a group of antibodies named PG and PGTs – isolated from a small group of HIV-infected people – the team believe they are one step closer to creating a one-size-fits all vaccine.
The antibodies work by targeting the virus’ glycans ― a protective coating of sugars the virus “steals” from the body – then binding them, along with attached proteins so that the virus becomes inactive.
“Usually, antibodies target proteins of a virus,” the researchers said in a statement. “But HIV is a wolf in sheep's clothing — it hides its precious proteins under a sugary shield, which is formed from the infected person's own sugars. That way, the immune system often doesn't even realize a foreign virus is lurking in its midst.”
The researchers are now working to unlock the secrets of the binding so that they can design an immunogen or antigen that would elicit the production of PG and PGTs in humans.
The team says the vaccine is already found to be effective on up to 80 per cent of HIV-1 virus types.
The Scripps Research Institutes’ Ian Wilson, who presented the study at a recent American Chemical Society (ACS) meeting, said: “If we can determine what parts of the virus those antibodies are binding, then we could use that information to design a single vaccine that could protect people against most or all of the HIV strains and subtypes.”
He added that though a timescale for the vaccine’s launch is yet unclear, the discovery that glycans – which are key to other activities like helping cells communicate with one another – are instrumental in the process is a big leap for vaccine research.