South Africa has more people living with HIV and AIDS than any other country in the world with more than 12% of the adult population estimated to be infected with the virus. Researchers are actively trying to develop a preventative HIV vaccine, an endeavour that has been bolstered by the discovery of broad and potent neutralising antibodies in HIV-infected humans. At the upcoming 5th CSIR conference in October, Prof Lynn Morris, who heads the HIV Virology laboratories within the Centre of HIV & Sexually Transmitted Infections at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in Johannesburg, will discuss how studies in these individuals are providing important clues for HIV vaccine design.
Unlike normal antibodies, broadly neutralizing HIV antibodies have unusual genetic features that present a significant challenge for conventional vaccine approaches. Nevertheless, longitudinal studies are revealing how such lineages evolve and this has enabled identification of the progenitor B cells that an HIV vaccine would need to stimulate. Parallel viral genetic analysis further demonstrates how viral evolution shapes these antibody responses. Collectively such studies in HIV-infected humans who develop broadly cross-neutralising antibodies are providing important clues for HIV vaccine design.
Morris is a chief specialist scientist and also holds a joint appointment as research professor at the University of the Witwatersrand, where she also completed her undergraduate studies. She received her DPhil from the University of Oxford in the UK in 1988. For the past 22 years, she has been involved in researching the virological and immunological aspects of South African HIV-1 subtype C infection making significant contributions to our understanding of how the antibody response to HIV develops. HIV vaccine development is now a major focus of her research and she is responsible for performing neutralising antibody assays on human clinical trials conducted in South Africa.