A new study has found that a component found in bee venom may be a powerful tool in the fight against human immunodeficiency virus, the virus that progresses to AIDS.
Researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have proven that the venom can actually destroy HIV cells, while leaving surrounding cells unharmed.
According to the findings, bee venom contains a potent toxin, called melittin, that can poke holes in the protective envelope that surrounds the virus. Scientists were able to infuse nanoparticles with the toxin and add a protective barrier around them so the nanoparticles would bounce off other cells. Because HIV cells are smaller than others, they fit between the bumpers and can be effectively targeted.
"Melittin on the nanoparticles fuses with the viral envelope," explained researcher Joshua Hood, M.D., Ph.D. "The melittin forms little pore-like attack complexes and ruptures the envelope, stripping it off the virus. We are attacking an inherent physical property of HIV. Theoretically, there isn't any way for the virus to adapt to that."
The study, which is published in the current issue of the journal Antiviral Therapy, suggests that bee venom may also help fight other viruses, including hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
Researchers stated that their findings could lead to the development of a vaginal gel that could prevent the spread of HIV. Additionally, researchers hope that nanoparticles infused with melittin could lead to new therapies for treating existing HIV infections when delivered intravenously, as they may be able to clear the virus from the bloodstream.
A different approach
This study differs from other recent research that has worked to functionally cure individuals who had recently been infected with HIV because it focuses on prevention.
Researchers in the U.S. and France recently announced that they were able to stop the progression of the disease in newly infected individuals by giving them large doses of antiretroviral drugs over an extended period of time. However, once infected individuals were "functionally cured," they did not need to continue taking medication on a daily basis.
According to experts, being functionally cured means that the virus still exists in the body, but is only detectable using highly sensitive laboratory tests.
The Foundation for AIDS Research reports that there are now more than 34 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS. Each day, nearly 7,000 people contract HIV - that's almost 300 new infections every hour.