Cow antibodies prove promising in developing HIV vaccine

World Today

In the 1980’s, the HIV-AIDS virus was considered a death sentence to those who contracted the disease. But things have improved dramatically thanks to drug therapies. 

However, researchers are still working on developing an HIV vaccine. 

And as CGTN’s May Lee reports, a new discovery connected to an unusual source could be the breakthrough scientists need.  

Scientists from various institutions including the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California recently made a stunning discovery about cows and their antibodies, proteins in blood that help fight off bacteria and viruses.  

Unlike humans, cows produce antibodies that are four to five times longer that ours. So why does that matter?&nbspThis new study found that the longer the antibody, the more effective they are in reaching an HIV protein in the body and zapping it. 

Dennis Burton is an expert in immunology and microbiology and took part in the HIV-cow research.

“HIV is a particularly nasty virus because it’s learned how to avoid being recognized, being seen by antibodies,” said Burton. “And it does this because it has a very dense coating on the outside, of sugars.”

“What the antibody has to do is to figure ways to get in there, into places like that,” he adds.  That’s not an easy task for a human antibody to accomplish.

That’s where the cow antibodies with freakishly long fingers come in. Vaughn Smider, also part of the research team, has been studying cow antibodies, or CDR3s, for eight years.  But it was just two years ago when he and the team decided to take a scientific leap.

“Cows seem to make these long CDR3s and we know, or it appears, that in antibodies against HIV that are broadly neutralizing, they have long CDR3s,” Smider explained.  “So let’s immunize cows and see what happens.”

What happened was nothing short of astounding.  Not only did the cows generate HIV antibodies in a matter of weeks, they also killed nearly every HIV strain they were exposed to. 

According to UNAids, nearly 37 million people worldwide were living with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2016 so this potential breakthrough is promising. Researchers emphasize there’s a lot more work ahead which could take years before a vaccine is ready, but that takes nothing away from the contribution cows have made in the pursuit to defeat HIV, making them real life super heroes.