Finding an anti-AIDS vaccine remains an elusive goal—partly because the HIV virus quickly mutates to evade the vaccine's antibodies. In a Watson Lecture on April 1, Caltech's Pamela J. Bjorkman will describe ways to neutralize that mutational advantage.
Researchers around the country are adopting a technique developed in the Caltech lab of Nobel Laureate David Baltimore to try to guard against infection. The method, called VIP, was originally designed to trigger an immune response to HIV.
"The method that we developed has now been validated in the most natural possible setting in a mouse," says David Baltimore, president emeritus and the Robert Andrews Millikan Professor of Biology at Caltech.
Researchers at Caltech are the first to have utilized high-resolution electron microscopy to look at HIV infection within the actual tissue of an infected organism, providing perhaps the most detailed characterization yet of HIV infection in the gut.
Years spent studying HIV in the lab were beginning to make Pamela Bjorkman feel disconnected from the possible impact of her work. So this summer she visited India, spending time with HIV-positive women and others who are at risk.
Rustem Ismagilov, the new John W. and Herberta M. Miles Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Caltech, believes in the ability of science and technology to address significant societal problems—from the spread of HIV and drug resistance to bacterial imbalances in the gut.
Over the past year, researchers at Caltech, and around the world, have been studying a group of potent antibodies that have the ability to neutralize HIV in the lab; their hope is that they may learn how to create a vaccine that makes antibodies with similar properties. Now, biologists at Caltech led by Nobel Laureate David Baltimore have taken one step closer to that goal: they have developed a way to deliver these antibodies to mice and, in so doing, have effectively protected them from HIV infection.
Using highly potent antibodies isolated from HIV-positive people, researchers have recently begun to identify ways to broadly neutralize the many possible subtypes of HIV. Now, a team led by biologists at Caltech has built upon one of these naturally occurring antibodies to create a stronger version they believe is a better candidate for clinical applications.
Much like cities organize contingency plans and supplies for emergencies, chronic infectious diseases like HIV form reservoirs that ensure their survival in adverse conditions. But these reservoirs—small populations of viruses or bacteria of a specific type that persist despite attack by the immune system or drug treatment—are not always well understood. Now, however, researchers at Caltech believe they have begun to decode how a reservoir of infection can persist in HIV-positive populations.