Can Bee Venom Cure HIV?
Researchers from Washington University School of Medicine claim that a toxin that is found in bee venom could destroy HIV but not harm surrounding healthy cells.
The results are an important step in creating a special vaginal gel that could prevent the spread of the potentially deadly virus.
"Our hope is that in places where HIV is running rampant, people could use this gel as a preventive measure to stop the initial infection," Joshua L. Hood, MD, PhD, a research instructor in medicine said.
According to the research, bee venom contains a "potent toxin called melittin that can poke holes in the protective envelope that surrounds HIV, and other viruses." The article goes on to say that the melittin does not harm normal cells because "protective bumpers" to the nanopartical surface, Hood added.
"When the nanoparticles come into contact with normal cells, which are much larger in size, the particles simply bounce off," the article reads. "HIV, on the other hand, is even smaller than the nanoparticle, so HIV fits between the bumpers and makes contact with the surface of the nanoparticle, where the bee toxin awaits."
"Melittin on the nanoparticles fuses with the viral envelope," Hood said. "The melittin forms little pore-like attack complexes and ruptures the envelope, stripping it off the virus."
Hood said that this treatment's advantage is that the nanoparticles attack an important part of HIV's structure. Several anti-HIV drugs only stop the "virus' ability to replicate. But this anti-replication strategy does nothing to stop initial infection."
"We are attacking an inherent physical property of HIV," Hood said. "Theoretically, there isn't any way for the virus to adapt to that. The virus has to have a protective coat, a double-layered membrane that covers the virus."
Hood went on to say that the approach can also be used to kill hepatitis B and C as they "Rely on the same kind of protective envelope and would be vulnerable to melittin-loaded nanoparticles." He added that the treatment could be used in couples who want to have a baby but one of the partners is HIV positive.
"These particles by themselves are actually very safe for sperm, for the same reason they are safe for vaginal cells," Hood said.
In related news, last week the Associated Press reported that scientists said that they apparently cured a baby born with AIDS. The child is now 2 ½ years old, and has been on medication for about a year but has no signs of infection.
"You could call this about as close to a cure, if not a cure, that we've seen," Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health, who is familiar with the findings, told The Associated Press.