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South African scientists make breakthrough in developing antibodies against HIV

(Xinhua)

10:16, October 23, 2012

JOHANNESBURG, Oct. 22 (Xinhua) -- South African scientists have discovered how some people can make potent antibodies capable of neutralizing strains of HIV, a local newspaper said on Monday.

"A team of South African scientists have found that when the virus evolves to evade its host's immune system by adding a sugar molecule to its surface, the host's antibodies adapt to recognize the sugar in such a way they can kill nine of 10 known strains of HIV," the Business Day quoted a research report published in the journal Nature Medicine on Sunday as saying.

The medical research was jointly conducted by some units at home and abroad, including the Center for the AIDS Program of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), the South African universities of Cape Town and KuaZula-Natal as well as the U.S. universities of North Carolina and Harvard.

"The study is based on blood samples taken at regular intervals over several years from two women infected with HIV, enabling the scientists to study how both the virus and women's antibodies have changed over time,"said Dr. Moore, lead author of the research report and a senior scientist at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

The report said the scientists found that sugar molecule called a glycan located at a specific point on the virus's outer protein coating labeled 332 prompted these women's immune system to make antibodies that killed 88 percent of HIV strains.

"These broadly acting antibodies do not cure HIV, but they do stop it from infecting healthy cells,"said the female doctor.

It is believed that the South African research fruit in tackling the HIV is closer to developing a vaccine.

A vaccine that prevents HIV infection in the world has proven elusive for decades, partly because there are many different varieties of the rapidly evolving virus, the newspaper said.

Scientists in the world are exploring the way how to produce a vaccine that prompt the body to make broadly acting antibodies to combat the multiple strains of HIV.

The South African scientists found that even if they could produce the vaccine by using the research fruit it would be only partially effective, because the proposed vaccine could only target this glycan.

"Like all science, this study needs to be replicated by other researchers," said Prof. Abdool Karim, co-director of CAPRISA.

The South African discovery was lauded by the U.S. researchers.

"Once we can see how broadly neutralizing antibodies arise naturally during infection, it becomes much more realistic to think that we can design more vaccine strategies to induce similar neutralizing antibodies,"said John Mascola, deputy director of the vaccine research at the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

South Africa has the highest number of people infected with HIV/ AIDS in the world, with an estimated 5.6 million people living with HIV/AIDS among its total population of 50 million in 2009.

It was reported that some 280,000 South Africans died of HIV/ AIDS in 2010.

In recent years, the South African government has been striving to combat HIV/AIDS by actively exploring possible ways, including launching awareness campaigns and supporting the anti-HIV/AIDS research.


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