Bee venom may halt the spread of HIV

Researchers hope to use the powerful toxin to develop an anti-HIV gel.

It's widely known that bees, by pollinating the world's crops, play a vital role within the food chain. But what we hadn't known, which scientists just discovered, was that they may also serve as a potent weapon in the battle against one of the deadliest diseases.

A study by scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis revealed that bee venom, a cocktail of acids, dopamine and other toxins, can safely destroy HIV. The finding may lead to to a vaginal gel that prevents transmission of the virus, along with other potential treatments. Details of the study can be found in the current issue of Antiviral Therapy.

The researchers had known that a protein called Melittin -- the culprit behind the inflammation and pain associated with bee stings -- possessed antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties. To test its affect on viruses, they attached the toxin to tiny nanoparticles designed to prevent normal cells from being harmed. While the Melittin tore holes in the protective membrane surrounding the virus, the protective bumpers on the nanoparticle surface kept it from coming in contact with and damaging normal cells.

According to researcher Joshua L. Hood, an advantage of such an approach is that the nanoparticle directly attacks an essential part of the virus’ structure. Most anti-HIV drugs work by inhibiting the virus’s ability to replicate once infected, but won't stop the initial infection and can even lead to drug resistance.

“We are attacking an inherent physical property of HIV,” Hood says. “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.”

The nanoparticles are easy to manufacture in large enough quantities for future clinical trials. “Our hope," Hood added, "is that in places where HIV is running rampant, people could use this gel as a preventive measure to stop the initial infection.”

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