Researchers develop nanoparticles to kill HIV with bee venom

New research from Research!America member Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis  shows that a component of bee venom can be safely used to target and kill HIV virus particles while leaving human cells intact. The compound, called melittin, punches holes in the outer protective coat, or “envelope,” of viruses, including HIV. Researchers modified the nanoparticle to protect human cells from the toxin by adding “bumpers” to prevent the toxin-laden particles from fusing with cells, yet the smaller virus particles are able to fit between these bumpers and interact with melittin.

The lead author on the study, Joshua L. Hood, MD, PhD, says that application of this new compound should be highly effective in preventing new infections and controlling existing infections, particularly in HIV strains that are resistant to current therapies.

“We are attacking an inherent physical property of HIV,” Hood said in an article from the WUSTL Newsroom. “The virus has to have a protective coat,” making it theoretically impossible for the virus to adapt to the toxin and become resistant to a therapy based on melittin. Researchers say that this nanoparticle can be administered through a vaginal gel to prevent new infections or intravenously to control existing infections.

This new research, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, gives new life to the nanoparticle that was originally developed as an artificial blood product. Though the particle “didn’t work very well for delivering oxygen … it circulates safely in the body” and can be adapted to fight many kinds of infections or disease processes, according to Hood’s interview with WUSTL. These early findings are based on work done in a cell-based research system but show great promise for clinical trials. Hood and his colleagues are confident that these nanoparticles could be easily manufactured in large quantities to make clinical trials possible. Read more about this study in the Huffington Post or see the original scientific article, published in Antiviral Therapy.

Advances in biomedical research like this study are at risk of losing funding under sequestration, which took effect March 1. And with these across-the-board cuts to federal research agencies, clinical trials with this nanoparticle antiviral compound or other promising drugs may not happen. Without basic science research into novel therapeutic strategies or mechanisms of disease, potential cures for deadly disease will remain elusive.

-by Megan Kane, Communications Intern 

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