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Vaginal Gel Could Potentially Protect Women from HIV

Update Date: Mar 13, 2014 10:06 AM EDT

Researchers are one step closer in finding a way to prevent the spread of the human immunodeficiency virus, HIV. A new study conducted on female monkeys reported that a particular type of gel applied to the vaginal area after sexual intercourse protected the monkeys from the virus.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, GA headed the experiment, which involved macaque monkeys. The monkeys were exposed to a hybrid simian/human AIDS virus. The researchers administered an antimicrobial gel three hours after being exposed to the virus. They found that five out of the six monkeys were protected from the AIDS-causing virus. When the team used the gel within half an hour after exposure, two out of three monkeys were protected.

"It's a promising after-sex vaginal gel to prevent HIV infection," Dr. Charles Dobard, of the division of HIV/Aids prevention, told BBC News. "Studies still need to be done to look at the window [of opportunity] - is it six, eight, 24 hours?"

"You can imagine this to be a useful product to have, if it were something you could buy over the counter and have at home just in case," Rowena Johnston, vice president of research for amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research said according to WebMD.

The gel is made with a one percent solution of raltegravir, which is an anti-HIV drug. The drug works by inhibiting the virus's ability to integrate its DNA into the genetic makeup of animal cells. Based on several studies, researchers believe that DNA integration occurs after six hours of exposure. The gel was capable of stopping this process in animal models.

"What we did in this work was we identified an anti-HIV drug that blocks virus integration in the DNA," lead author Walid Heneine, a researcher in HIV/AIDS prevention for the CDC said according to AFP. "This is a prerequisite step for HIV infection, and that step takes at least six hours after infection so that provides a wide window for dosing after sex."

Despite the study's findings, the researchers stated that modifying the gel for human trials would most likely not occur for another few years. Previous human trials involving vaginal gels mixed with HIV medications have yielded very mixed outcomes.

The study was published in the Science Translational Medicine.

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