According to a new report in the journal Antiviral Therapy, researchers from the Washington University in St. Louis have found that nanoparticles loaded with bee venom are capable of destroying the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) while leaving the body’s cells unharmed. In a radical departure from traditional attempts to treat HIV, the research team says that the nanoparticles could be used to develop a prophylactic gel capable of stopping the spread of 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,” said lead author Joshua L. Hood, MD, PhD, a researcher and instructor at WUSTL.
The key ingredient in bee venom is a toxin called melittin, which is able to break through the tough protective envelope that surrounds viruses like HIV. Besides being effective against viruses, other research has shown that melittin-loaded nanoparticles are also effective tumor-cell assassins.
In addition to killing viruses, the new study is promising because it shows that the nanoparticles do not harm normal cells. To accomplish this, the research team engineered protective ‘bumpers’ to the nanoparticles’ surface so that the particles harmlessly bounce off when they come into contact with much larger body cells.
However, since viruses are much smaller than the nanoparticle, the HIV viral bodies slip between the bumpers, allowing bee toxin to access the virus.