HIV has the highest mortality rate of any infectious disease. The difficulty in developing a vaccine lies in the fact that the virus is mutable and that its structure is still not completely understood. Immune systems can fight HIV by creating antibodies, but often these will only attack ‘decoy’ regions of the virus, meanwhile key parts of the virus are often disguised in sugars and go unnoticed. Using a combination of imaging and modelling software, researchers have now identified the structure of a crucial section of the virus. Chemical engineers are working on creating a similar protein that contains this same crucial site. When injected with this artificial protein, a person will naturally produce antibodies that will be poised to attack HIV in a similar way, if ever infected. This is the first step towards a vaccine. Pictured is the key HIV protein (aqua) bound to antibodies (blue).
Written by Helen Thomas
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.