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Closer View of AIDS Virus May Shape New Vaccine

Researchers at Florida State University have produced a super-sized image of the virus that causes AIDS. Using an electron microscope and a technique similar to a CAT scan, scientists magnified the human immunodeficiency virus 43,000 times -- revealing tripod like spikes on its surface. "Instead of having to dry the virus down and stain it, which causes distortions, we were actually able to actually view the whole virus as well as the spikes in their native state," says lead scientist Kenneth Roux. "The virus is essentially frozen into a glassy form of ice, and we can see the virus frozen in this thin film of ice."

Having a more accurate picture of the surface spikes that allow HIV to grab and destroy the body's immune cells gives scientists a blueprint to follow in designing a defensive vaccine. "The reason why that is important is because the immune system sees shape and if the shape is incorrect that may be a least a partial explanation as to why the virus has not been successfully attacked by the vaccine candidates that have been produced to date."

Roux says the next step is to produce an image of the virus in the process of being attacked by powerful antibodies. "And this might give us further clues as to how to develop a good vaccine that will essentially elicit similar kinds of neutralizing antibodies in patients."

The research and images were reported in the journal Nature.