Researchers at the Scripps Research Institute have developed a new strategy for making an HIV vaccine. They found that upon HIV infection, the HIV virus binds to dendritic cells. Dendritic cells are immune system cells that act like guards in skin and organ linings. If a potential threat is detected, these cells travel to the lymphatic system to initiate an adaptive immune system response. Unfortunately, when these infected dendritic cells travel to the lymphatic system, they also unwittingly transport the HIV virus to its ultimate destination: the immune system’s T-cells.
Leveraging this discovery, the Scripps Research team’s experimental HIV defense works in two ways:
- An artificial block called “glycodendrons” binds to the dendritic cells, preventing the HIV virus from binding.
- The immune system creates antibodies to this artificial block which also recognizes HIV virus.
If the glycodendrons prove to stimulate a strong enough immune system response to preemptively stimulate the body to create antibodies, the Scripps researchers will have created the first successful HIV vaccine.
So far, the treatment has induced HIV antibodies in mice, and, in laboratory studies, has been able to block the virus from infecting immune cells.