In an unexpected turn of events, cows could just be the clue that leads to an HIV vaccine, as the domestic animals are helping scientists with better understanding on how to prevent the deadly infections.
Cows have shown an “insane” and “mind-blowing” ability to tackle HIV which will help develop a vaccine, say the US researchers.
A study published in the journal Nature on Thursday explained that while cows can’t contract HIV, they can produce antibodies to block infections like HIV, providing scientists a long sought-after opportunity to better understand how the immune system develops such antibodies.
The researchers injected the four calves with HIV immunogens, which are proteins designed to elicit an immune response to the virus. They discovered that the cows very rapidly developed broadly neutralizing antibodies (bNAbs) to HIV in their blood.
“I was shocked,” says study author Devin Sok, the director of antibody discovery and development at IAVI . “It was really crazy and very exciting. The responses developed very quickly — between one to two months — which is well beyond what we anticipated.”
The researchers were able to isolate antibodies from the calves and took a closer look. An antibody called NC-Cow 1 was revealed to be especially powerful when it came to attacking HIV.
“The kind of insight we get from studying this is an understanding of the mechanisms whereby the cows’ immune system is capable of creating these antibodies,” says Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).
Understanding how an immune system effectively develops antibodies against HIV, even if it belongs to a cow, is valuable information for scientists hoping to develop an HIV vaccine, especially if they can find a way to get the human body to mimic the creation of these antibodies.
Times reports that the new research also provides insight into how to develop new therapies or treatments for viruses that evade the human immune system.
“As a scientist, this is really exciting,” says Sok. “To put it into perspective, the first broadly neutralizing antibodies were discovered in the 1990s. Since then, we’ve been trying to elicit these antibodies through immunization, and we’ve never been able to do it until now. Until we have immunized a cow. This has given some information for how to do it so that hopefully we can apply that to humans.”
The results, published in the journal Nature, showed the cow’s antibodies could neutralise 20% of HIV strains within 42 days.
By 381 days, they could neutralise 96% of strains tested in the lab.