In the nearly 30-year hunt for a working HIV vaccine, researchers have fiercely debated what that vaccine will look like — and, when people receive the shot, what kind of immune response their bodies will mount that ultimately protects them from infection.
There are several kinds of immune responses that could protect against HIV infection. Researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center have now found that a small but important subset of the immune cells known as T cells may be important for a working HIV vaccine.
Dr. Raphael Gottardo, a computational biologist at Fred Hutch who specializes in vaccine research, led an international research team that devised a unique, computational method to detect a tiny fraction of T cells in HIV-vaccine recipients — cells dubbed “polyfunctional T cells” for their ability to produce several different immune molecules. These polyfunctional T cells, Gottardo's team found, were linked to a lower risk of infection. The team published its findings Monday in the journal Nature Biotechnology.
“It’s not the quantity that matters, but it’s the quality of the cells,” Gottardo said. “And, in fact, we’ve known that for a very long time.”
Gottardo and his team weren’t the first to look for T cells correlated with HIV protection in a vaccine study, but they were the first to find them.