The dream of an AIDS vaccine has been given a major shot in the arm with a new study that has rekindled hope among many experts they are on track to providing protection from the pandemic scourge.

“It’s certainly the most exciting news in vaccine research in the last decade,” says Dr. Kelly McDonald, director of the University of Toronto’s HIV research program, of the report in the journal Science.

The virus mutates so rapidly that it has vanquished any effort to create an effective vaccine against it for two decades now.

Though the virus mutates rapidly, scientists say in the paper that they have found a piece of the organism that remains unchanged through more than 75 per cent of HIV mutations.

Researchers say they may know within months how fast the new target can be employed in vaccine production.

While it could be years before the findings can be translated into a vaccine — if ever — the study has validated a strategy of using the immune system’s antibody response mechanisms to create a vaccine.