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A blueprint for an AIDS-free generation has just been unveiled. But how close are we really? From Hong Kong to Nairobi, from Brussels to Brazil — GlobalPost sheds light on the state of AIDS and HIV worldwide in this in-depth series.

Hiv antibodies aids vaccine 20121022
Volunteer Nobathembu Mbembe reacts as Dr. Camilla Samways (R), injects the African produced HIV vaccine at the iEmavundleni Centre, in Crossroads, Cape Town, on July 28, 2009. South Africa has launched human trials of the first African-produced HIV vaccine, as scientists seek new approaches to battling AIDS in the world's worst-affected country. The locally produced vaccine iis being tested in Soweto and Cape Town. (RODGER BOSCH/AFP/Getty Images)

AIDS vaccine 'a step closer' after HIV antibodies discovery

Scientists found that two HIV-infected women in South Africa produced antibodies capable of neutralizing and killing 88 percent of known strains of the virus that causes AIDS.

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Researchers have discovered how potent antibodies can neutralize HIV, a breakthrough that could help with the development of a vaccine for the virus that causes AIDS.

A team of scientists found that the immune systems of two South African women infected with HIV were able to produce antibodies capable of neutralizing and killing 88 percent of known strains of the virus, according to a study published Sunday in the journal Nature Medicine.

Significantly, scientists were able to establish a link between a change in the outer protein coating of the virus, and the formulation of the "broadly neutralizing antibodies" that fight it.

The research, undertaken by the Center for the AIDS Program of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), has been hailed as a ground-breaking discovery that could be an important step towards developing an AIDS vaccine.

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A sugar called glycan on the surface covering of the virus at a specific position forms a site of vulnerability in the virus, and enables the body to mount a neutralizing antibody response, a statement from CAPRISA explained.

“Understanding this elaborate game of ‘cat and mouse’ between HIV and the immune response of the infected person has provided valuable insights into how broadly neutralizing antibodies arise,” scientist Penny Moore was quoted as saying.

South African newspaper Business Day noted that an HIV vaccine has proven elusive in part because there are many different varieties of the virus.

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Aaron Motsoaledi, the South African health minister, praised the discovery and publicly thanked the two women who took part in the study.

"Our scientists have also in the past helped us understand the mother-to-child transmission of the virus. Their groundbreaking work brings us closer to developing an HIV vaccine," Motsoaledi said, according to the South African Press Association.

The study was funded by the US National Institutes of Health, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the South African government.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/health/121022/hiv-vaccine-step-closer-after-antibodies-discovery-south-african-scienti