Bee Venom: A Cure for HIV?

HIV_beevenomSince it was first clinically observed in 1981, HIV/AIDS has been responsible for an estimated 25 million people worldwide. Since 2010, an estimated 34 million people were diagnosed with HIV, most of whom live within the developing world. In spite of anti-viral medicines which makes HIV manageable, countless people still die as a result of improper treatment or a lack of access.

As such, its little wonder then why medical researchers have been working for decades to find a cure. If it were possible to inoculate against the spread of HIV, the disease would all but disappear within a few generations. In addition, if it were possible to cure those already infected, and worldwide access were assured, HIV and AIDS could very well be eliminated in a decade or less.

HIV-budding-ColorNot too long ago, researchers at Caltech experimented with HIV antibodies which could very well lead to a vaccine in the near future. But even more exciting than this was the announcement from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis earlier this month, where a research team demonstrated that nanoparticles infused with a toxic bee venom were capable of killing HIV. With this latest breakthrough, it seems that the days of one of the greatest plagues in history may truly be numbered.

The key to this discovery, which was made by Samuel A. Wickline and his team at the Washington University, involves what is known as cytolyic melittin peptides. Melittin is found in bee venom, and it has the fortuitous trait of being able to degrade the protective envelope that surrounds HIV. When delivered in both large and free concentrations, they observed that HIV was unable to withstand the assault and died.

HIVnano_primaryMoreover, these melittin-loaded nanoparticles left the surrounding cells unharmed, which incidentally was no accident. The nanoparticles Wickline and his team developed were endowed with a kind of filter that prevents healthy cells from coming into contact with the toxin. But HIV, since its a viral strain, is small enough to sift right through these filters, thus exposing it to the toxin.

Currently, all known forms of HIV treatment involve preventing the virus from replicating to the point that it will morph into AIDS. By contrast, this new process targets the virus where it lives, focusing on killing on it rather than limiting its ability to reproduce. Adding to the general sense of excitement is speculation that this same concept could be used to combat other infectious STDs, including hepatitis B and C.

As a topical gel, suggestions are already circling that melittin-loaded nanoparticles could be combined with spermicidal cream to create the ultimate contraceptive that can also protect against STDs. Not only would this ensure truly safe sex, combined with melittin-treatment treatments for the infected and preventative vaccinations, it would also open up another front on the “war on HIV”.

My thanks to Rami for bringing this article to my attention. Since he pointed it out, its been making quite a few waves in the medical community and general public! Stories like these give me hope for the future…

Source:, IO9

The Future is Here: The HIV-Preventing, Contraceptive-Delivering, Dissolving Condom

condomDoesn’t that sound like a tall order? A nanofabricated condom that delivers an anti-HIV drug, prevents pregnancy, then disappears so as not to create waste. Did I say tall order, or something out of a dream? Hard to say. The point is, its could soon be reality thanks to researchers at the University of Washington who just published a paper in describing how they’ll use “electrospinning” to create next-generation female condoms made from specially customized nano-fibers.

For those unfamiliar with the terminology, electrospinning is a process where an electrical charge is used to draw very fine fibers (typically on the micro or nano scale) from a liquid. Using this method, the UofW researchers hope to weave an ultra-thin series of cloth-like fibers and medicine together to create female condoms that will boast all the necessary protection and contraceptives to make recreational sex perfectly safe. And the rate of disolution, which can be engineered to take place in a matter of minutes, hours or days, ensures that women don’t need to remove it after sex is had.

According to their abstract, the new condom is based in the field of “Multipurpose prevention technologies (MPTs)”, a relatively new concept that seeks to “simultaneously prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unintended pregnancy”. Given the current rate of population growth and the ongoing epidemic of HIV/AIDS and other STI’s, this new field is considered to be a possible answer to a growing global health concern. What’s more, they claim that “combining chemical and physical barriers offers the greatest potential to design effective MPTs, but integrating both functional modalities into a single device has been challenging.”

The abstract also goes on to describe the process that they will be relying on and the results:

“Using FDA-approved polymers, we fabricated nanofiber meshes with tunable fiber size and controlled degradation kinetics that facilitate simultaneous release of multiple agents against HIV-1, HSV-2, and sperm. We observed that drug-loaded meshes inhibited HIV-1 infection in vitro and physically obstructed sperm penetration. Furthermore, we report on a previously unknown activity of glycerol monolaurate (GML) to potently inhibit sperm motility and viability.”

Despite the challenges in the process, the results thus far have been encouraging, and even garnered the attention of Bill and Melinda Gates. Apparently, their Foundation has pledged a research grant of one million dollars to develop the technology which will make these condoms possible. I don’t know about you, but I feel safer!