Phillip Berman, PhD, from the University of California at Santa Cruz received a $3.5 million five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to pursue new research that might lead to an HIV vaccine, KGO Newstalk in San Francisco reports.

Berman’s initial research uncovered a new structural element in an HIV coat protein that could be used for vaccine development, said a university spokesman. The donation will fund the next phase of research, which will revolve around Berman’s discovery as well as a concept called “broadly neutralizing antibodies,” which Berman affirms prevent HIV infection from progressing too quickly in the human body.

Studies show that less than 25 percent of individuals produce broad antibodies naturally, and they usually take six to 12 months to develop on their own. This gives HIV enough time to take root in the body.

“The antibodies have to be there before infection occurs,” Berman said. “After the virus gets a foothold, it’s too late.”
Research shows that an early variation of the virus exposes the binding site, which is the point where the virus clings to human cells. This is also when the site is most flexible. Berman is convinced that combining the neutralizing antibody theory with the exposed binding site may produce an effective AIDS vaccine.