Powerful HIV-fighting antibodies have long been found in complicated forms that are difficult to implement as vaccines, but researchers have now studied a simpler version of such an antibody and developed a road map to create a vaccine based on it. By finding the uncommon type of antibody in a patient early after infection, the researchers were able to study its evolution and determine what factors caused it to be able to fight HIV as it continued to evolve, instead of losing recognition of the virus like most antibodies do. This simpler antibody would immunize against fewer versions of HIV than its more complicated forms, but there's a better chance that scientists will be able to implement it effectively.
Recent technology allowed the researchers to identify a patient earlier after infection than previously possible — thereby giving them access to the simpler antibodies. The person studied was among the 20 percent of patients who developed "broadly neutralizing" antibodies that can identify and fight multiple versions of HIV. For the past decade, vaccine designers have studied how this type of antibody is able to continue to target HIV, reports Nature. Inducing the creation of those antibodies in humans has proven to be difficult, but this new research could make it more attainable. Lead researcher Barton Haynes told Nature, "A message of our paper is that broad neutralizing antibodies don't have to be as complicated as we thought."