Posted on

HIV ‘Can-Opener’ Molecule Exposes Virus’s Most Vulnerable Parts; What It Means For Vaccine Development

While testing a recently developed molecule, JP-III-48, on samples from HIV-positive patients, researchers at the University of Montreal in Canada observed something groundbreaking. The molecule had the ability to open up HIV “like a flower.”

Although this discovery is only in its initial stages the group believes it could be the foundation for new measures of HIV prevention and even possibilities to eradicate this virus from patients already infected.

Part of the reason why scientists find it so difficult to create a vaccine for HIV is that the virus has a unique way of evading the immune system. Although the host creates antibodies against HIV, without a way to physically reach the virus, it is difficult for the human body to mount an effective immune response against it. A recent study, now published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests a way around HIV’s defences.

The virus is described as having the features of a tin can. This said finding a way of opening it would allow your antibodies a route to the parts of the virus where its weakest in order to eliminate it all together. In many HIV could also be described as a code which is waiting to be cracked.

Harvard and University of Pennsylvania researchers developed JP-III-48, but Montreal researchers were the first to successfully test it on HIV-positive patients. The molecule imitates CD4, a protein located on the surface of T lymphocytes. CD4 acts as a doorway to the T cell and allows HIV to enter and infect. It was in the Montreal study that the researchers added JP-III-48 to the serum of patients infected with HIV-1 (the most common form of HIV) and witnessed the flower-opening effect.

“Adding the small molecule forces the viral envelop to open like a flower,” lead author of the study, Jonathan Richard, explained in a press release. The molecule forces the virus to expose parts which are recognized by the host’s antibodies. The antibodies then create a sort of bridge with some cells in the immune system and form an attack. “The antibodies that are naturally present after the infection can then target the infected cells so they are killed by the immune system,” Richard added.

The finders speculate that their discovery could have massive potential in developing and effective vaccine against HIV. The main factor that makes HIV so challenging to treat is the fact that even when its totally eradicated from the system it remains dormant in “HIV reservoirs” waiting to return after the treatment stops. The researchers believe that this “tin can” opening molecule will play a vital role in overcoming this and pave the way for research which will ultimately find a way to “shock” the dormant HIV out of hiding in order for it to be destroyed using this new molecule toppled with your natural antibodies.