“We’ve taken a little bit of HIV and engineered it so that it activates the immune system super well,” said Scripps professor David Nemazee.
The researchers’ long-term goal is to design a vaccine that prompts the body to produce antibodies that bind to HIV and prevent infection.
Due to HIV’s complex nature, the virus is able to evade detection from the immune system and mutate rapidly into new strains.
“Instead, we are focusing the immune response on the Achilles heel of the problem,” said Nemazee.
Unlike traditional vaccines, which use inactive proteins from the virus to fight against it, this new approach aims to engineer new proteins that can better train the immune system to recognize the virus.
“The response is antibodies,” said Nemazee. “Now the antibodies are made better than they would be naturally and more specifically.”
The newly produced antibodies bind to the vaccine, linger in the blood and fight against the virus.
So far, scientists at Scripps have only been able to test on mice but they say the results seem promising.
Next, they aim to figure out how to design a series of booster shots to train the immune system to finally fight off the HIV.