A new study published on Wednesday in the journal Nature says that with a single shot of lab-produced antibodies, monkeys can be protected from an infection of a virus similar to HIV, monkey HIV, for nearly six months.
Since no HIV vaccines currently exists, creating one has proven to be a difficult task for scientists across the globe. Scientists think it’s necessary to find other medications or preventive treatments against the disease. It’s worth mentioning that scientists’ opinion suggests finding those antibodies could be a good alternative to an HIV vaccine. These new findings on monkeys can, later on, be passed to humans and the treatment could prevent HIV infection in people.
Other medications that prevent HIV already exist, like Prep Pills, which reduce the risk of getting infected from sex by more than 90 percent, but it is difficult to carry out since these pills need to be taken daily and people usually forget, or run out of the medication, or only take it when they are going to have sex, because they are not well informed, which reduces the drug’s effectiveness.
A new long-term protection
Scientists at theU.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) involved in the study worked starting with three HIV-fighting antibodies. Among these antibodies there were VRC01 and two others. A fourth one was later created by genetically tweaking the VRC01 antibody. The antibodies were produced by certain HIV-infected people and purified in a lab before being used in the study.
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The American and German researchers injected four groups of macaques with a different antibody. After the first week, monkeys were exposed to weekly low doses of a monkey-like version of the HIV virus called SHIV. A combination of HIV and the simian form of HIV that naturally infects many primates, since the human version only infects people.
The researchers found that with a single infusion of one of the antibodies, the macaques were protected from becoming infected for 12 to 14 weeks, and in some other animals the antibodies kept the infection away for up to 23 weeks. For monkeys without the antibody however, it took an average of three weeks to become infected with HIV.
“The result is surprising,” says Ruth Ruprecht, who directs the AIDS Research Program at Texas Biomedical Research Institute, and who was not part of the study. “I am astonished by how long protection lasted.”
The researchers said that there is a cost issue with this new finding, since creating antibodies in the lab is very expensive. Also, the treatment has to be repeated, because the body eventually degrades the infused antibodies.
It’s going to be complicated for low-income countries – where most HIV infections happen – to adopt the antibodies’ infusion. It is more realistic to be adopted in countries liked the United States, said the researcher team involved in the study.