Duke researchers “unraveling mystery” in development of an HIV vaccine

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DURHAM, N.C. (WNCT) – A research team led by scientists at Duke University on Friday announced it has made progress in “unraveling [the] mystery” behind an effective HIV vaccine.

The team at the Duke Human Vaccine Institute studied 100 HIV-infected people to discover why some people with the virus can produce antibodies to fight the disease, but previous attempts at developing a vaccine “can’t seem to induce the same response.”

Half of the people in the study possessed immune systems that proved capable of making antibodies to broadly fight the virus, while the other half’s did not. Their research was published in the journal Science Immunology.

In an earlier study, Dr, Barton F. Haynes, director of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute, studied a person with both HIV and a form of lupus, erythematosus, which is an autoimmune disease. The person’s immune system both combated the virus and produced needed antibodies.

Researchers found similarities in the immune systems of people suffering from autoimmune disease and those of people infected with HIV who produce antibodies naturally. Scientists hypothesize these findings could pave the way to the development of an effective HIV vaccine.

“The important point here is that the first step to finding a way around a roadblock, is to be able to understand the biology behind the problem,” Haynes said. “We now know what we need to do. The next step is to figure out how to safely mimic what happens in infection when the right antibodies are induced.”

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