Bee Venom-Loaded Nanoparticles Kill HIV, Scientists Claim

Bee venom could prevent the spread of HIV, researchers say.

Researchers say that bee venom can kill the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Photo: Celisa B.M.Serra/Flickr

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis had conducted a study and found out that a toxin called melittin found in bee venom can destroy HIV by poking holes in the envelope surrounding the virus.

As U.S. News & World Report explains, nanoparticles smaller than HIV were infused with the bee venom toxin. A “protective bumper” was added to the nanoparticle’s surface, bouncing off normal cells and leaving them intact. Normal cells are larger than the particles of the dangerous virus, so the nanoparticles target HIV, which is so small it fits between the bumpers.

“Melittin on the nanoparticles fuses with the viral envelope,” said research instructor Joshua L. Hood, MD, PhD, via the news release. “The melittin forms little pore-like attack complexes and ruptures the envelope, stripping it off the virus.”

He went on, adding: “We are attacking an inherent physical property of HIV. 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 results of the study can lead to the development of a vaginal gel to prevent the spread of the human immunodeficiency virus and probably an intravenous treatment to help those already infected.

“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,” said Hood.

The news comes a few days after scientists announced that a baby girl who was born with the virus has been successfully cured after very early treatment with standard drug therapy.

According to scientists, it’s a potentially outstanding case that could help get rid of HIV infection in its youngest victims, especially in AIDS-plagued African countries where too many babies are born with the virus.

The announcement came on Sunday at a major AIDS meeting in the US city of Atlanta.

“This is a proof of concept that HIV can be potentially curable in infants,” said Dr. Deborah Persaud, a virologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, who presented the findings.

“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, familiar with the findings, told reporters.

The baby was cured after her doctor prescribed her faster and stronger treatment than is usual, starting a three-drug infusion within 30 hours of birth.

That was before tests confirmed the infant had the virus and not just at risk from a mother whose HIV wasn’t diagnosed until she was in labor.

“I just felt like this baby was at higher-than-normal risk, and deserved our best shot,” Dr. Hannah Gay, a pediatric HIV specialist at the University of Mississippi, said in an interview.

“Now, after at least one year of taking no medicine, this child’s blood remains free of virus even on the most sensitive tests available,” Gay said.

Persaud’s team now is planning to conduct a study in order to prove that, with more aggressive treatment of other high-risk infants. “Maybe we’ll be able to block this reservoir seeding,” Persaud said.

According to statistics provided by amFAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, shows that more than 34 million people are living with HIV/AIDS worldwide. Of these, 3.3 million are under the age of 15 years old. Each day, almost 7,000 people contract HIV around the globe.

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