Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis (Missouri, US) have found a way to use nanoparticles impregnated with bee venom to hopelessly damage HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) in laboratory tests, according to a Mar. 7, 2013 news release on EurekAlert,
Nanoparticles carrying a toxin found in bee venom can destroy human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) while leaving surrounding cells unharmed, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have shown. The finding is an important step toward developing a vaginal gel that may prevent the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
“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 research instructor in medicine.
Dexter Johnson in his Mar. 8, 2013 posting on Nanoclast (IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] blog) contextualizes this research with links to other related research along with his comments about this latest work (Note: A link has been removed),
The research, which was published in the journal Antiviral Therapy (“Cytolytic nanoparticles attenuate HIV-1 infectivity”), employed a nanoparticle that had previously been abandoned when it proved ineffective for delivering oxygen to blood cells. But in its new role, carrying the toxin melittin, a poison found in bee venom, it is extremely effective at breaking down the essential structure of HIV.
The Washington University in Saint Louis Mar. 7, 2013 news release (and origin for EurekAlert news release) written by Julia Evangelou Strait provides details about the research,
Bee venom contains a potent toxin called melittin that can poke holes in the protective envelope that surrounds HIV, and other viruses. Large amounts of free melittin can cause a lot of damage. Indeed, in addition to anti-viral therapy, the paper’s senior author, Samuel A. Wickline, MD, the J. Russell Hornsby Professor of Biomedical Sciences, has shown melittin-loaded nanoparticles to be effective in killing tumor cells.
The new study shows that melittin loaded onto these nanoparticles does not harm normal cells. That’s because Hood added protective bumpers to the nanoparticle surface. When the nanoparticles come into contact with normal cells, which are much larger in size, the particles simply bounce off. HIV, on the other hand, is even smaller than the nanoparticle, so HIV fits between the bumpers and makes contact with the surface of the nanoparticle, where the bee toxin awaits.
“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.”
According to Hood, 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.
“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.”
Beyond prevention in the form of a vaginal gel, Hood also sees potential for using nanoparticles with melittin as therapy for existing HIV infections, especially those that are drug-resistant. The nanoparticles could be injected intravenously and, in theory, would be able to clear HIV from the blood stream.
While this work was done in cells in a laboratory environment, Hood and his colleagues say the nanoparticles are easy to manufacture in large enough quantities to supply them for future clinical trials.
Here’s a citation and link to the paper,
Joshua L Hood, Andrew P Jallouk, Nancy Campbell, Lee Ratner, Samuel A Wickline. Cytolytic nanoparticles attenuate HIV-1 infectivity. Antiviral Therapy. Vol. 19: 95 – 103. 2013
The article is behind a paywall.