Around 36 million people worldwide have HIV. Scientists are trying to develop an HIV vaccine using antibodies, molecules our bodies make to target and tag invading particles. Researchers have found that rabbits exposed to a strain of HIV produce antibodies targeting a specific part of the virus: a hole in its glycan shield. This shield consists of sugar molecules attached to the outside of the virus, protecting it from attack – the hole is thus a gap in its defences. However, although most HIV strains have a hole in their glycan shields, not many strains have one in the same position as was identified, so different antibodies would need to be developed. The image shows how much certain parts of the glycan shield are conserved between different HIV strains – red being 90–100%, and green 50–60%. This is a step towards vaccines, but the shield remains a challenge in vaccine development.
Written by Esther Redhouse White
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.