A first-of-its-kind study from Sydney’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research, published in the journal Science, reveals that ‘bad’ antibodies–produced by a group of B cells (immune cells)–can turn out to be the secret weapons of your immune system. They can guard you against tricky microorganisms like HIV that appear almost identical to your body’s own cells making it impossible for the disease-fighting cells to identify and attack them.

What do bad antibodies do?
They are known to react against the body’s own cells and tissues and can cause autoimmune disease. For this reason, the B cells that produce these antibodies are kept in a state of long-term silence by the body as a defence mechanism.

Twist in the tale
Researchers of this study have found that the so-called bad antibodies are not as bad as they were thought to be. In fact, they can be tweaked and made ‘good’ to tackle diseases that other antibodies cannot tackle.

‘Salvation’ of the cells
The study authors made slight alterations to the DNA sequencing of the cells producing bad antibodies to turn them into good ones. This helped the antibodies differentiate between your body’s own cells and foreign invaders that are identical to those cells, thus preventing a self-attack. The process also ensured that these tweaked antibodies become a 5000 times more potent weapon against the invading foreign body.

Towards better vaccines
These findings indicate that there is a whole class of muted B cells lying untapped. They can be accessed for developing vaccines against microorganisms like HIV that disguise themselves as body cells. (Also Read: Breakthrough in HIV Cure as Cancer Drug Shows Drastic Results)

HIV treatment: Current scenario
Currently, there is no cure for this virus. However, there are many effective medicines that help people with HIV live much longer. Most of these medicines function by interfering with the reproduction of the virus, protein production, and ability to enter the body’s cells. Though they have dramatically revolutionised the treatment, the demerits are not negligible: These medicines need to be taken for a lifetime, have major side effects and are ineffective for those in whom the virus develops resistance. Efforts at making safe and effective vaccines against HIV have also failed to yield results so far.

Fighting AIDS: Where the future lies
Scientists are currently looking forward to developing a wide range of drugs for HIV treatment that includes longer-acting pills as well as alternative formulations such as injections, patches, and implants. Also, they are testing various antibodies for the treatment of this notorious virus. Antibodies are good options for the treatment because they have few side effects. Moreover, they can be modified to ensure they last long inside the body, thus reducing the dosage.

Another approach towards treating and preventing the disease is resorting to nanotechnology. Though at a very nascent stage, this school of thought has gained attention in the recent years. Nanotechnology can improve the existing treatments and also boost new therapeutic strategies, such as gene therapy and immunotherapy.