A study in the current issue of Antiviral Therapy reports that nanoparticles loaded with a toxin found in bee venom can destroy HIV while leaving nearby normal cells unharmed.
The toxin, melittin, can pierce the protective shell of HIV and other viruses like hepatitis B and C—and has been shown to be effective against tumor cells, as well. Scientists say it could be used to develop a vaginal gel that prevents the spread of HIV.
“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,” says Joshua L. Hood, MD, PhD, a researcher at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
According to Science Daily:
An advantage of this approach is that the nanoparticle attacks an essential part of the virus’ structure. In contrast, most anti-HIV drugs inhibit the virus’s ability to replicate. But this anti-replication strategy does nothing to stop initial infection, and some strains of the virus have found ways around these drugs and reproduce anyway.
“Melittin on the nanoparticles fuses with the viral envelope,” Hood says. “The melittin forms little pore-like attack complexes and ruptures the envelope, stripping it off the virus.”
Melittin therapy could also be used to treat existing HIV infections, particularly ones that are drug-resistant.