San Antonio scientists making breakthroughs in HIV prevention research

Texas Biomed AIDS Research team working towards eventual vaccine

SAN ANTONIO – Research that could eventually lead to an HIV vaccine is being done in San Antonio.

A new study published this month shows a local team's recent discovery that paves the way for a new field of HIV prevention study.

The team of scientists has been designing and creating antibodies, which are proteins in the body that fight infection.

Dr. Ruth Ruprecht, Texas Biomed AIDS research director, is specifically studying the antibodies that can protect against HIV.

"The overwhelming majority of HIV infections in the world occur through mucosal fluids -- 90 percent," Ruprecht said.

That's why she's studying the important antibodies created in those mucosal areas, such as the mouth or sexual organs. Those areas are the first line of defense against HIV, and Ruprecht said, surprisingly, not a lot of research is being done in that area.

She has already studied two antibodies and has had success, but she realized no one had ever studied a third called IgM.

"We decided to do something about this void of information," she said.

When used to combat the virus, IgM binds to HIV particles and creates a particle that is too large to pass through mucous membranes and thereby wards off infection.

The antibodies are constructed and designed in the lab and then are tested on the primates at Texas Biomed.

"By making the antibodies ourselves, characterizing them very well, we know exactly what the animals get and we also know what the animals don't have," Ruprecht said. 

She and her team published their new study this month, which proves IgM plays a role in HIV defense. The antibody prevented HIV two-thirds of the time. 

"I was so taken by surprise, and I am a born skeptic," Ruprecht said with a smile. 

It was hard to hide excitement when she knows her research could lead to a vaccine that could prevent HIV for a lifetime.

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