• New Delhi
  • 10 January 2014
  • Features
  • By Rahul Koul

Hope floats for HIV patients!

The ever elusive human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has been a matter of chase for scientists globally, making them win some rounds and lose a few. India too is playing its part in a unique way


Neutralizing Antibodies bind to the four identified sites on the virus. (Pic Credits: IAVI)

Compared to the times of complete despair and loss of hope, there has been a remarkable scale up of treatment over the period of time, for HIV that causes Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in the human body and its subsequent break down. However, the improvements have hardly helped to solve the deeper problem as it continues to require lifetime treatment, besides every one person put on treatment, two newly infected getting added to the list. The disease has been an area of major concern for the various global health agencies across the world, since its identification in 1983. The virus has already killed 35 million people globally. In India alone, there are around 2.7 million people who have been affected by the AIDS. Therefore, a broadly effective AIDS vaccine would be a powerful asset to the efforts to stop the spread of HIV. However, given the complexities in the nature of the virus, the forging of partnerships involving international collaborations and the open sharing of scientific knowledge, is expected to provide direction and boost to translational research.

Globally efforts continue

As per Dr Wayne C Koff, chief scientific officer & senior vice president - R&D, International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), "Earlier we were not able to identify the proteins clearly. In last few years, we have been able to make the crystal structure. This has been made possible only because of advances in basic sciences. Evolution of the bNAb's in our times has led to understanding and raised new hopes. Combination of antibodies is important for tackling virus. Year after year, we have much more to talk about hopefully!"
Despite some failed attempts in past, the outcomes have been unable to deter the researcher's pursuit. "Though the science is the game of hits and misses, it is also a great learning experience where we learn from each failed effort to launch renewed efforts to tackle the situation. At the moment, we have identified four vulnerable sites on the virus and are now looking for more sites on the one found in India," said Dr Koff while responding to query on failure of few vaccine candidates in the past.

Founded in 1996, the IAVI is a global not-for-profit organization, whose mission is to ensure the development of safe, effective, accessible, preventive HIV vaccines to use throughout the world. It is associated with 25 countries to research, design and develop AIDS vaccine candidates. The HIV Vaccine Design Program will capitalize on recent research advances that have sparked a renaissance in AIDS vaccine research and development (R&D). In September 2009, scientists at IAVI and their colleagues in the Neutralizing Antibody Consortium (NAC), which is run by IAVI, reported the isolation of a pair of potent. And very broadly neutralizing antibodies against HIV, that discovery, the first of its kind in a decade, was followed by the isolation of other broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs) by researchers at the Vaccine Research Center of the US National Institutes of Health and of still more by the IAVI-affiliated team. The most promising of these antibodies are now being scrutinized by researchers to elucidate the specific mechanisms by which they bind to and neutralize HIV. The idea is to create artificially synthesized mimics of their targets on HIV, to be used in vaccines to elicit similarly potent bNAbs and teach the immune system how to repel HIV infection.

Dr Robin A Weiss, emeritus professor, University College London, chair - IAVI Scientific Advisory Committee and HVTR Laboratory Scientific Advisory Group, said, "From being a death sentence, the HIV-AIDS has now been called a treatable disease from the year 1996 onwards. People with HIV have worst cases of tuberculosis (TB). With 60 percent of them being affected, the women are the worst sufferers in the most affected nations such as Africa."

Playing a responsible role


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