Scientists Find A “Weak Spot” In HIV That May Pave the Way to a Vaccine

This is a milestone in our quest to eradicate HIV.

5. 17. 16 by Colin Aboy
Image by 123rf

For decades, scientists all over the world have been concentrating efforts to find a way to deal with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Sure, they’ve developed ways to treat the infected and to keep the virus at bay, but true prevention is another case—HIV was clinically observed in 1981 and we still don’t have a vaccine.

But perhaps this new research will finally help eradicate the tricky virus.

A Weak Spot

A recent press release reports that a team of scientists led by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has discovered a new “weak spot” in HIV that vaccines can target. The area, called the fusion peptide, is a simple structure of eight amino acids that helps the virus fuse with a cell.

According to the study, the team used a particularly powerful antibody, called VRC34.01, taken from the blood of an unnamed HIV-positive patient that caught the weak spot in the virus.


It’s not only capable of binding with the virus through the fusion peptide but also preventing it from infecting an entire cell. By crystallizing the binding process right while it was occurring, the scientists were able to observe this phenomenon at a molecular level.

A model of VRC34.01 bound to the fusion peptide. Credit: NIAID

Still Moonshots Away

Notably, it was not only this particular patient that possessed the powerful antibody to stop HIV from infecting cells. The researchers screened other HIV-positive volunteers and found that 10 out of 24 of the blood samples followed the same targeting mechanism as VRC34.01.

While everything looks promising, the scientists still need to figure out a way to draw out similar antibodies in other patients that are not fortunate enough to have VRC34.01 in their systems. That would mean animal trials before getting to human testing.

Nonetheless, this is certainly a milestone for those working to eradicate HIV.


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