Thursday, October 13, 2011

Powerful, multi-strain anti-HIV antibody

Antibody treatments for HIV have been around for a while, but the technology just got better. A newish anti-HIV antibody, PGT 128, has been shown to powerfully neutralize 70% of known HIV strains. The La Jolla Institute recently showed how: this antibody not only binds to the sugars surrounding gp120 that usually provide a slippery surface that the immune system can't target very well, but also to conserved part of gp120 itself. This explains why the antibody can target so many strains of HIV. X-ray crystallography and EM structures also hint that the antibody can bind two separate gp120 molecules at the same time, making it's hold on the virus that much more powerful than other antibodies.

I always find it really cool when we can harness the body's capability like this—making antibodies as drugs. One problem with this treatment is that it can't target viruses that are already hiding inside DCs or T cells. However, it could stop the disease from progressing farther or perhaps provide an effective way to passively immunize people most at risk. Antibodies are super expensive, but PGT 128 is powerful enough that very little is required, so this might actually be a possible solution (in the first world at least—maybe for inclusion with blood transfusions?).

-Annelise Mah

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