South Africa: New Research on Potent HIV Antibodies

This article was reported by Health Canal.

Health Canal reported on a study of the potent HIV antibodies a KwaZulu-Natal woman's body produced in response to HIV infection. South African researchers in the CAPRISA consortium and researchers from Wits University, the National Institute for Communicable Disease in Johannesburg, the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and the University of Cape Town, in conjunction with U.S. partners at the National Institutes of Health's Vaccine Research Center of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease and from Columbia University in New York participated in the investigation. The researchers found and identified the potent antibodies (known as broadly neutralizing antibodies as they can destroy multiple HIV strains).

All HIV-infected individuals make antibodies against HIV, but in most patients the antibodies cannot kill a variety of viruses. Only a few people make broadly neutralizing antibodies. Dr. Penny Moore of Wits University and one of the lead South African researchers on the study, explained, "The outer covering (envelope) of HIV has a coating of sugars that prevents antibodies from reaching the surface to neutralize the virus. In this patient, we found that her antibodies had 'long arms,' which enabled them to reach through the sugar coat that protects HIV." The researchers also discovered that the antibodies had long arms from the beginning, which enabled them to begin destroying HIV early.

The researchers isolated the antibody, traced its origins, identified and successfully cloned antibodies to make more for further testing. They plan to test the antibodies directly in HIV-positive patients or individuals at risk of HIV, but must first conduct animal studies before progressing to tests with humans. The Strategic Health Innovation Partnerships, a unit of the South African Medical Research Council, will support future animal and human studies with funding from the Department of Science and Technology.

The full report, "Developmental Pathway for Potent V1V2-Directed HIV-Neutralizing Antibodies," was published online in the journal Nature (2014; doi: 10.1038/nature13036).