Researchers observe HIV superinfection for clues to an effective vaccine
HIV has been shown time and again to be a very tricky virus to understand. It's able to hijack immune cells to hide from the body's natural defense mechanism, essentially disabling the antibodies that would otherwise destroy it.
A team of researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center recently observed women with HIV "superinfection" and discovered that they had a stronger antibody response than individuals with singular infection, a finding that may lead to an effective vaccine.
HIV superinfection occurs when a person is infected with two different strains of the virus, which come from two different sexual or drug use partners.
Authors of the study explained that women with this type of infection have 1.68 times more antibodies in their systems to neutralize HIV and, therefore, a much stronger – about 1.46 times, to be precise – ability to disable the virus.
"Individuals who become superinfected with a second virus from a different partner represent a unique opportunity for studying the antibody response and may provide insights into the process of developing broad neutralizing antibodies that could inform HIV vaccine design," said senior author Julie Overbaugh, Ph.D.
The researchers said that it may be possible to develop an effective vaccine against HIV by harboring a combination of viral strains, which may in turn boost the immune system's efficacy, as these findings suggest.
While the medical community continues to grapple with how to curb the rate of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), the importance of prevention cannot be overstated. Practicing safer sex by using condoms properly and consistently and receiving regular STD tests may reduce a person's chances of becoming infected with a difficult-to-treat illness.