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Cows Make Powerful HIV Killers!

S u m m a r y :
Cows make powerful antibodies to neutralise deadly HIV, shows a new study published in the journal Nature.

An Impossible Task

The battle against HIV has proved to be an exceptionally challenging one. Who knows, maybe the answer is in cows—literally in cows. Because the creatures don’t just make milk, they also make powerful HIV-killers! New research conducted by a team of scientists from the International Aids Vaccine Initiative and the Scripps Research Institute shows, for the first time ever, that an animal can produce antibodies to effectively fight the deadly virus.

HIV is a difficult virus to deal with because it not only exists in different forms (strains) but is also ever-changing (even within an infected person’s body). The antibodies that people do develop will generally only be specific to one strain and not to another.

Cows to the Rescue

When a group of 4 cows were injected with an HIV protein, they started producing powerful antibodies to combat the harmful virus. If we could mirror the production of the molecules in humans, we might be able to develop a successful HIV vaccine.

The immunised cows made antibodies of a specific type, the broadly neutralising antibodies; the latter could counteract the effects of a range of HIV strains. It is to be noted that attempts to making HIV vaccines have remained unproductive because they have not triggered the production of broadly neutralising antibodies.

The miracle antibodies were made 42 days after immunisation—a period of time considered to be relatively short given that this normally only happens after many years for the rare times that people have developed this type of antibody; this applies to only 1% of the HIV-infected population, and the antibodies do not actually help these people.

Inhibiting 96% of HIV Types

The cow antibodies were shown to block 96% of 117 HIV types from initiating infections in cells in a petri dish. If the production of such antibodies could be stimulated in humans, a vaccine could be built from there, write the authors.

The findings also suggest that drugs could be made to treat HIV from the cows’ ingenious method of making neutralising antibodies.

“The potent responses in this study are remarkable,” says study author Dr Dennis Burton. “Unlike human antibodies, cattle antibodies are more likely to bear unique features and gain an edge over HIV.”

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