Researchers harness cold virus to fight HIV

RUTGERS (US)—In the search for an effective HIV vaccine, researchers are employing an unlikely ally—the common cold virus. A team from Rutgers University has taken a piece of HIV that is involved with helping the virus enter cells, put it onto the surface of a cold virus, and then immunized animals with it. Tests show the animals made antibodies that can stop an unusually diverse set of HIV varieties.

While researchers previously had been able to elicit effective antibodies, those typically acted against a very limited number of HIV types. With HIV’s known propensity to mutate, antibodies developed against one local strain may not recognize and combat mutant varieties elsewhere. The challenge is to find a broad spectrum vaccine capable of protecting against a wide range of HIV varieties.

Led by wife and husband duo Gail Ferstandig Arnold and Eddy Arnold, the Rutgers team has identified a part of the AIDS virus that is crucial to its viability and then targeted this Achilles heel, which, it turns out, is common to most HIV varieties.

“The really exciting part is that we were able to find viruses that could elicit antibodies against a huge variety of isolates of HIV. That is an immense step and a very important step,” says Gail Ferstandig Arnold. While the response is significant, she says more work is needed to develop the idea into a viable vaccine.

While most vaccines are actually made from the pathogen itself, employing weakened or inactivated organisms to stimulate antibody production, HIV is just too dangerous to use as the basis for a vaccine vehicle. Instead, the researchers used the relatively innocuous cold-causing rhinovirus and attached the target portion of the HIV.

“This is actually the first demonstration of this particular Achilles heel being presented in way to generate a relevant immune response,” she adds. “It is probably not potent enough by itself to be the vaccine or a vaccine, but it is a proof of principle that what we are trying to do is a very sound idea.”

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