The Independent’s journalism is supported by our readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission.

Cows have 'remarkable' ability to fight HIV and could hold clue to vaccine, say scientists

 The findings are 'a significant step forward', says the US National Institutes of Health

Chris Baynes
Saturday 22 July 2017 15:06
Comments
Cows rapidly produce antibodies that fight HIV, researchers have found
Cows rapidly produce antibodies that fight HIV, researchers have found

Cows have a "remarkable" ability to fight HIV, according to a new study that researchers say could help develop a vaccine for humans.

The animals' powerful immune systems rapidly produce special antibodies that neutralise the virus, scientists found.

Only 10 to 20 per cent of humans with HIV naturally develop the "broadly neutralising antibodies" (bNAbs) and those who do, only begin generating them about two years after infection, by which time the virus has mutated.

But researchers found that cattle injected with HIV proteins developed the immune response within weeks. All four calves tested developed bNAbs as quickly as 35 to 50 days.

It is the first time immunisation has reliably triggered the production of HIV-fighting antibodies in humans or animals.

The US National Institutes of Health said the findings were "a significant step forward".

Director Anthony Fauc said: “From the early days of the epidemic, we have recognised that HIV is very good at evading immunity, so exceptional immune systems that naturally produce broadly neutralising antibodies to HIV are of great interest - whether they belong to humans or cattle."

Cows do not get HIV and bovine antibodies are unsuitable for clinical treatment for humans in their current form. But scientists said the study could help to steer the development of a vaccine.

"A minority of people living with HIV produce bNAbs, but only after a significant period of infection, at which point virus in their body has already evolved to resist these defences,” said Dennis Burton, a lead author of the study and a scientific director at the Scripps Research Institute.

“The potent responses in this study are remarkable because cattle seem to produce bNAbs in a relatively short amount of time. Unlike human antibodies, cattle antibodies are more likely to bear unique features and gain an edge over complicated HIV immunogens.”

UK's longest-surviving HIV patient speaks out

One theory links the more powerful antibodies produced by cows to their extensive gastrointestinal systems, which comprise of multi-chambered stomachs populated by plentiful bacteria to help break drown tough grasses.

The bacteria increases the risk of infection, requiring a mechanism for producing potent antibodies.

Researchers could explore to mimic the effect of the potent antibodies or modify them to develop vaccines and treatments for HIV.

“HIV is a human virus but researchers can certainly learn from immune responses across the animal kingdom," said Devin Sok, a study leader and director of antibody discovery and development at the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative.

Researchers at Texas A&M University were also involved in the study, published in the journal Nature.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in