It was his curiosity to understand the complex nature of human body that made this Kashmiri boy to come up with a research which could produce vaccine for HIV, reports Saima Rashid
As a child Raiees Andrabi, now 32, was curious about how nature is designed, how human immune system functions and how biological processes work. Years down the line, this curiosity led him to solve one of the greatest riddles facing the humanity – how to fight HIV.
With the help of other researchers, Raiees has successfully identified four antibodies to target the weak spot in HIV that is bound to help medical science to come up with a vaccine.
Hailing from Ratnipora village in south Kashmir’s district Pulwama, Raiees grew up as an average student, who spent his childhood playing cricket.
“I wasn’t too much into text books,” says Raiees, “But I think I was generally very curious about how nature was designed and would ask myself and grown-ups a lot of questions, and that played an important role in my career choices.”
After 12th class exams, Raiees opted to study biochemistry from SP College in Srinagar. At the college, he got an opportunity to discuss his ideas with professors. “Those interactions were very stimulating and led me to pursue Biochemistry as my major in Master’s,” he says.
After completing his graduation from Srinagar, Raiees took admission in Jamia Hamdard University, New Delhi, in a master’s program in Biochemistry. The next step, that helped Raiees steer his future in a desired direction, was his stint at AIIMS. He pursued PhD in immunology from the premier medical institute. While pursing his PhD, Raiees was awarded Fogarty International Fellowship. “This allowed me to do research work at the New York University medical centre,” says Raiees.
Through his research, Raiees was trying to find out how human immune system responds to HIV in natural infection. After a thorough study, Raiees realised that very little is known about HIV virus and the way our body reacts to it. And to end that curiosity, he reached California as a research associate at Scripps Research Institute.
“Another reason to take research in California was Dr Dennis Burton. He is the principal investigator of my research group. A highly inspiring person,” says Raiees.
It was at the Scripps Research Institute, California where Raiees and his research mates found that the four antibodies targeted a single spot on HIV’s surface called the V2 apex. These antibodies recognized the area on about 90 percent of known HIV strains and even related strains that infect other species.
“V2 apex region helps stabilizing the virus, so it is an important area to target if HIV needs to be neutralized,” adds Raiees.
The childhood curiosity, that made Raiees to study the complex mechanisms of immune system that helps in combating pathogens and infections, was partly quenched with his research at Scripps Research Institute.
“Making the substitute of natural antibody system is not possible,” he says, “but our team has been able to mimic the protein structure of HIV with a vaccine candidate.”
With a major breakthrough achieved, Raiees is hopeful that his research will be instrumental in the development of a vaccine against HIV.