For the first time, scientists have mapped the coevolution of HIV and the corresponding immune response in a single person, providing vital clues that may help in the development of a vaccine, The New York Times reports. Publishing their findings in the online edition of the journal Nature, scientists sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) analyzed weekly blood samples from one African man beginning four weeks after he was infected and continuing for more than three years.  

The investigators were able to chart the virus as it evolved and eventually prompted the man’s immune system to produce what are known as “broadly neutralizing antibodies,” which in his case were able to counteract up to some 55 percent of HIV strains found around the world.

Over the past few years, researchers have made increasing strides in understanding the function and development of these antibodies, which block the receptors HIV uses to latch onto human cells before infecting them. About one in five people with HIV will eventually produce broadly neutralizing antibodies, but they will largely do so too late: after the viral population has mutated enough to evade the antibodies’ effects. Now that scientists better understand this evolution, the hope is to develop a vaccine that could harmlessly imitate the virus at pivotal steps in the process and prompt the body to produce these antibodies on its own, which counteract a new infection.

To read the New York Times report, click here.

To read the NIH release, click here.