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Scientists Just Discovered a New Vulnerability in HIV

The hunt for a vaccine is heating up.

Green and yellow antibodies attack the red peptide on HIV in this visualization. (Photo: NIAID)

Last week, scientists said they had found something interesting: a vulnerable part of the human immunodeficiency virus, better known as HIV. 

The part, called a fusion peptide, is used by the virus in part to latch on to cells, infecting them. But scientists working for an institute tied to the National Institutes of Health found that some of our body’s natural antibodies already attack the peptide, preventing the virus from latching on to cells.

Using the antibodies, scientists can now design vaccines that would specifically target the peptide, a much simpler structure in the virus than others that scientists have previously targeted for vaccines. That means that an HIV vaccine is closer than ever. 

HIV was first observed 35 years ago, and has been the subject of a vast amount of clinical research, leading to advances in treatment that have made it more livable than ever for those diagnosed. A vaccine, though, remains the ultimate goal. 

“I’m actually sort of excited by just finding something interesting,” Peter Kwong, one of the scientists who made the discovery, told Healthline. “We hope that it will go somewhere. We don’t know, but I do think it’s a promising lead.”