Infant antibodies could increase HIV vaccine creation

Newborn baby Fatmata
Copyright: Aubrey Wade / Panos

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  • Creating vaccines from adult antibodies is proving to be difficult
  • Researchers identify infant antibodies that could aid vaccine development
  • An expert says the findings could help prevent HIV in infants and children

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[KISUMU, KENYA] A study in Kenya that has found that novel antibodies evolve quickly with limited mutation and could accelerated HIV/AIDS vaccines development.
The researchers aimed to define HIV antibodies developed in an infant out of 425 mother-infant pairs.

“The antibodies that have been isolated from adults have taken years to evolve, which is not practical for a vaccine.”

Julie Overbaugh, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle


According to Julie Overbaugh, a member of the US-based Human Biology Division at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, who was involved in the study, they found one particular infant infected with HIV who made a broadly neutralising antibody against the virus.
The study results focusing on the infant with novel antibodies was published in the journal Cell on 30 June suggest that an HIV vaccine development could be improved by mimicking infection and immune response in infants.
The researchers used a state-of-the-art method in isolating and cloning the antibody. “It took screening almost 100,000 B cells to find ten that made HIV antibodies,” says Overbaugh.
According to the journal, antibody samples were taken from infants in Nairobi, Kenya born to HIV-positive mothers prior to the use of antiretroviral drugs.
The researchers say that the use of adult HIV antibodies produced in studying HIV vaccine developments has not created the needed results.
 “The antibodies that have been isolated from adults have taken years to evolve, which is not practical for a vaccine,” says Overbaugh. “That is why we were motivated to search for the [infant’s] antibodies and clone them.”
Overbaugh explains that it is possible to generate antibodies that are broad and potent without too much mutation, thus leading to an increased chance of finding the cure for HIV/AIDS.
Samoel Khamadi, a researcher with the US Military HIV Research Program and Walter Reed HIV Program in Tanzania, concurs, saying that the natural infection could be important to help design vaccine strategies to elicit HIV antibodies.
“Broadly neutralising antibodies are even more important as they target different strains of the virus and this is important in HIV since the virus generates a lot of strains,” he explains.

According to Khamadi, the research is a major step in winning the fight against HIV/AIDS. “This is one of the ways we can find cure, especially in preventing new infections such as in infants and children,” Khamadi adds.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.


Cassandra A. Simonich and others HIV-1 neutralising antibodies with limited hypermutation from an infant (Cell, 30 June 2016)