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Protein Found in Sea Coral Could Protect Against HIV

Update Date: Apr 30, 2014 10:09 AM EDT

HIV, which stands for human immunodeficiency virus, is an infection that attacks one's immune system. Even though HIV is incurable, antiretroviral therapy has been very effective in slowing down the progression of the disease. In order to prevent HIV from spreading, people must practice safe sex and be more cautious. In a new study, researchers discovered another way that people can potentially protect themselves from the virus. The researchers identified a protein from the sea coral that appears to prevent HIV infection.

"It's always thrilling when you find a brand-new protein that nobody else has ever seen before. And the fact that this protein appears to block HIV infection - and to do it in a completely new way - makes this truly exciting," Senior investigator Dr. Barry O'Keefe, deputy chief of the Molecular Targets Laboratory at the Center for Cancer Research at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), stated according to Medical News Today.

For this study, the researchers from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) collected samples of feathery corals from the north coast of Australia. From these corals, there were proteins called cnidarins. The researchers tested the purified proteins on HIV strains that were created in the lab. The proteins were capable of binding to the virus, which stopped the virus from entering the T cells from the immune system. Penetrating the T-cells is the first step of infection. The proteins' potent effect did not lead to resistance for other HIV drugs, such as gels and lubricants, which are used to prevent the spread of HIV during sex.

"We think the cnidarin proteins have a unique mechanism of action," explained study researcher and NCI research fellow, Dr. Koreen Ramesssar, reported in FOX News.

The researchers hope to reproduce the proteins in larger quantities and test their effectiveness more thoroughly. The findings were presented at the Experimental Biology 2014 meeting.

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