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Potent Bee Venom Can Kill HIV, a study finds

Update Date: Mar 08, 2013 10:44 AM EST
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The importance of bees continues to grow past their agricultural roles of pollinating crops. Scientists and researchers have been aware of the potent toxin, melittin that can be found in bee venom. This toxin, when given in high concentrations, can do a significant amount of damage. Based on this knowledge, researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO used the bee venom in conjunction with nanoparticles as a weapon in fighting the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

The researchers used the combination of nanoparticles and melittin in their study to combat HIV. They placed melittin onto nanoparticles and observed what the nanoparticles did to the cells in the body. Researcher, Joshua L. Hood, MD, PhD reinforced the nanoparticles with protective bumpers. The nanoparticles did not do any damage to normal cells in the body since the cells are bigger and thus, they simply bounce off of one another. HIV cells, however, are smaller than the nanoparticles and could fit in between the bumpers. Once the HIV cells enter through the bumpers, they came into contact with the nanoparticle's surface where the melittin is located, and thus starts to attack the HIV cells. The researchers observed that the toxin appears to poke holes into the barriers of the HIV cells.

"Melittin on the nanoparticles fuses with the viral envelope. The melittin forms little pore-like attacks complexes and ruptures the envelope, stripping it off the virus," Hood stated.

This finding is significant in HIV research because it approaches the virus in a very different way. Current HIV treatments are focused on preventing the virus from spreading throughout the body. This discovery shows that the nanoparticle could be successful in attacking parts of the virus' structure.  Hood plans on using the combination of nanoparticles and melittin in creating a preventative form of treatment. Hood believes that a vaginal gel can be created which would ideally stop the initial contact of the virus and prevent the infection. Although this vaginal gel is far from being developed as of right now, Hood also hopes that the combination can be injected intravenously into the bloodstream, which would hypothetically kill the HIV cells.

Melittin has been found to attack several other viruses, such as hepatitis B and C that have the protective membranes. Although the production of this melittin and nanoparticle combination is still very new, Hood is optimistic about its possible effects on preventing HIV infections. 

The study was published in Antiviral Therapy.

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