Researchers at La Jolla Institute for Immunology (LJI) have discovered how the immune system can transform into an antibody-making machine capable of neutralizing one of the most elusive viruses out there: HIV.

Researchers once thought that B cells (which make antibodies) spent only weeks perfecting their weaponry against viral threats. Now LJI research shows that a “slow delivery, escalating dose” vaccination strategy can prompt B cells to spend months mutating and evolving their pathogen-fighting antibodies.

This finding, published in Nature, is an important step toward developing effective, long-lasting vaccines against pathogens such as HIV, influenza, malaria, and SARS-CoV-2.

“This shows the immune system can do really extraordinary things if you give it the opportunity — and that in some vaccine contexts, patience really is a virtue,” says study senior author LJI Professor Shane Crotty, Ph.D.

The immune cell evolution inside you

Most pathogens look alien to the immune system. They’re unwelcome visitors covered in unfamiliar proteins. When the body’s dendritic cells see these strange proteins, they signal to “helper” T cells to start training an army.

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