Italian researchers get new understanding of how HIV works

Discovery could lead to development of effective vaccines

Italian researchers get new understanding of how HIV works

(ANSA) – Rome, November 14 – Italian researchers on Wednesday announced they had found a key mechanism in the functioning of the HIV virus, a turn which experts say could lead to the development of an effective vaccine against the disease. The researchers, led by Barbara Ensoli of the Italian National AIDS Center, found that a protein called Tat binds with the HIV virus' Env protein, in a manner which renders ineffective the host body’s antibodies. The study shows how antibodies for the Tat and Env proteins are necessary not only to block the virus’s entrance and spread in the organism but also to contrast the effects of the infection which persists during treatment with anti-retroviral drugs. "This discovery offers an explanation for the disappointing results obtained with preventive vaccines based only on Env and tested in the past and suggests new possibilities for an effective vaccination approach," said Enrico Garaci, president of Italy’s national health institute, the Istituto Superiore di Sanita'. To test the efficacy of such a vaccine-based approach, in Italy a phase 1 trial is being carried out which combines Tat and Env proteins. Advanced, clinical phase 2 trials for therapeutic vaccines, based only on the Tat protein, are being carried out in Italy and South Africa. Ensoli coordinated a team which included researchers from the universities of Ferrara, Florence and Urbino. The team published their findings in the journal PLoS ONE.

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