Tests unveil HIV’s ‘cloak’
Mark Henderson; 6/10/09
A critical camouflage mechanism that allows HIV to hide from the body’s defences and foil immunisations has been rebuilt in the laboratory in research that could transform the prospects for an effective AIDS vaccine. The advance by British scientists should allow them to turn one of the virus’s great strengths into its achilles heel, promising a first vaccine that offers strong protection against HIV. It offers a way of overcoming HIV’s remarkable capacity to shapeshift so that it becomes unrecognisable to the human immune system, which has so far thwarted efforts to create a workable vaccine. By making synthetic versions of the virus’s “camouflage jacket” and injecting them into patients, scientists believe that it should be possible to teach the immune system to recognise and neutralise HIV. Candidate vaccines based on the new approach are already being evaluated in animal studies and the first human trials could potentially begin in two years.