Speed Reads

thanks be to cows

Cows could be key in helping researchers develop an HIV vaccine

Cows have given humanity cheese, steak, and milk, and now the bovine species might help scientists develop a vaccine against HIV. A study published Thursday in the journal Nature 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.

One of the biggest conundrums for researchers working to develop an HIV vaccine is figuring out why people with HIV do not produce enough effective antibodies to battle the virus. Cows, scientists discovered after injecting four calves with HIV immunogens, produce powerful antibodies against HIV — and rapidly. Researchers were then able to isolate antibodies from the cows to study individual antibodies' effectiveness against HIV and investigate how they could trigger the production of such antibodies in the human body.

"As a scientist, this is really exciting," said study author Devin 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."

John Mascola, director of vaccine research at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, noted the study isn't a straight shot toward developing the vaccine for HIV. However, he said, "it does tell us how the virus evades the human immune response" — which is certainly a step in the right direction.