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Duke researchers find antibody to target strains of HIV-1

Duke’s research team, lead by LaTonya Williams, worked with researchers at the University of Texas at Austin to develop the HIV-1 antibody. UNC researchers are using this finding to develop their own curative antibody.

Williams and her team found the antibodies in the B-cells, or antibody producing cells, of an individual.

The study was broken down into three parts. In one part of the study, researchers looked in the blood of an HIV infected person and discovered that individual was producing an HIV neutralizing antibody.

Researchers then designed a molecular probe that was able to identify B-cells, creating an antibody effective in neutralizing the virus. Through this method, they have been able to reconstruct how the antibody develops and use it to neutralize a broad spectrum of HIV strains.

In North Carolina there are over 35,000 individuals currently living with HIV, said Lee Storrow, executive director of the North Carolina AIDS Action Network.

Storrow said UNC increased its initiative in order to find a cure.

“North Carolina and the work being done at both of the universities, but also in the Research Triangle, have a long history of being a leader on the research front,” he said.

UNC and Duke have worked together on HIV research for more than 12 years, Storrow said.

“We are collaborating scientifically by using their expertise in antibodies but using them in a different way,” said David Margolis, director of the UNC HIV Cure Center.

Williams’ findings will be able to be used to teach the human immune system to make the antibodies on their own, Margolis said.

“What was so unusual about this study was the antibodies were able to target multiple strains of the virus and neutralize the infection in 99 percent of the tested HIV-1 strains,” she said.

The Duke researchers collaborated with George Georgiou, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. Georgiou found the same antibody was located in the same individual’s blood plasma.

Barton Haynes, co-author of the paper and director of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute in the Department of Medicine, said this is the first time the neutralizing antibody has been found in blood plasma and B-cells and used to neutralize this many strains of HIV.

“We now have an antibody that can target the pool of cells in the body that stay infected and prevent cure,” Haynes said.

Through university collaboration, the researchers were able to combine their findings to create an antibody that was effective in neutralizing most of the HIV-1 strains tested, he said.

“We were able to swap different parts of the antibodies to create a hybrid antibody that was made of parts of the B-cells and plasma and this was more broad and more potent than any of the candidates for use in HIV treatment,” Williams said.

In the next steps of the study, Williams and her team are working to move the product toward human and animal testing.

“We are working to optimize development of the antibody so it can neutralize a wider variety of strains at a lower concentration,” she said.

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