An H9 T cell, blue, is shown infected with HIV, yellow. Researchers at Rockefeller University say a new antibody can be given to HIV patients years before their bodies would produce them naturally — and the virus would have less time to mutate.
Written by Erica Pearson | Published on April 9, 2015

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Results from a new trial found that an "extremely potent" antibody can dramatically reduce the level of the HIV virus in a patient's blood — raising hopes for an HIV vaccine.

Researchers at Rockefeller University in New York City found that giving people who have HIV an antibody called 3BNC117 causes the body to fight over 80% of HIV strains.

This is important because the virus constantly mutates to stay ahead of the body's immune system. Past tests of antibodies had disappointing results.

"What's special about these antibodies is that they have activity against over 80% of HIV strains and they are extremely potent," Rockefeller University Assistant Professor Marina Caskey said in a release.

However, the cloned antibody's power to suppress the virus did not appear to last — suggesting that the antibody may currently be best used in combination with other drugs, the researchers said.

The work, which includes the first results to emerge from human trials of "broadly neutralizing" HIV-fighting antibodies like 3BNC117, was published this week in Nature.

Researchers working in Dr. Michel Nussenzweig's Laboratory of Molecular Immunology at Rockefeller University were able to isolate and clone this new generation of antibodies, so they can be given to HIV patients years before their bodies would produce them naturally. The timing is important because if the antibody is administered early enough, the virus has had less time to mutate and is more vulnerable.

The new study suggests an HIV vaccine may be possible. If researchers were able to get an uninfected person's immune system to generate antibodies like 3BNC117, this might be enough to block the virus, researchers said.

The results also may lead to therapies that need to be administered once every few months instead of daily.