Commentary: HIV vaccine may be within reach

A vaccine for HIV has been a long time coming.

In 1981 — 29 years ago this month — medical researchers reported an apparently new illness that was killing people by crippling their immune systems. It would be called AIDS.

In 1984, researchers demonstrated that AIDS was caused by a specific microbe, the human immunodeficiency virus. The identification of the virus led many to expect a vaccine within a few years.

Bitter disappointment followed. As millions began to die of AIDS, scientists discovered that the HIV virus mutated so rapidly into so many varying strains that existing methods of vaccine development were useless against it.

Finally, more than a quarter century later, an HIV vaccine is in sight, though only on the horizon. When the International AIDS Conference convenes in Vienna this Sunday, it will buzz with good news — the discovery of at least six antibodies that knock out broad spectrums of HIV strains.

A team of researchers at California's Scripps Institute has found two antibodies that — between them — disable all but one of 95 HIV strains tested, according to the Wall Street Journal. The antibodies work because they target spots on the virus that mutate little.

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