According to a research scientists from Washington University School of Medicine published in the March 2013 issue of Antiviral Therapy, nanoparticles containing bee venom toxin melittin can destroy human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) while at the same time leaving surrounding cells unharmed.
Melittin is a powerful toxin found in bee venom. It can poke holes in the protective viral envelope that surrounds the human immunodeficiency virus, as well as other viruses. Free melittin in large-enough quantities can cause considerable damage.
Protective bumpers were added to the nanoparticles surface, so that when they come into contact with normal cells (which tend to be much larger), the nanoparticles bounce off rather than attach themselves.
“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 Joshua L. Hood, MD, PhD, a research instructor in medicine.
Senior author, Samuel A. Wickline, MD, the J. Russell Hornsby Professor of Biomedical Sciences, has demonstrated that nanoparticles loaded with melittin have anti-cancer properties and have the capacity to kill tumor cells. Linking bee venom with anticancer therapies is not new, in 2004 Croatian scientists reported in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture that honey-bee products, including venom, could well have applications in cancer treatment and prevention.
HIV is much smaller than the nanoparticles and fits in between the bumpers. When HIV comes across a nanoparticle it goes in between the bumpers and comes into direct contact with its surface, which is coated with the bee toxin, which destroys it.
While most anti-HIV medications work on inhibiting the virus’ ability to replicate, this one attacks a vital part of its structure. The problem with attacking a pathogen’s ability to replicate is that it does not stop it from starting an infection. Some HIV strains have found ways to circumvent replication-inhibiting drugs, and reproduce regardless.
“We are attacking an inherent physical property of HIV. Theoretically, there isn’t any way for the virus to adapt to that. The virus has to have a protective coat, a double-layered membrane that covers the virus.”
Hood believes that the melittin-loaded nanoparticles have the potential for two types of therapies:
-A vaginal gel to prevent the spread of HIV infection
-Therapy for existing HIV infections, particularly drug-resistant ones
In theory, if the nanoparticles were injected into the patient’s bloodstream, they should be able to clear the blood of HIV.
The hepatitis B and C viruses, among several others, rely on the same type of protective envelope and could be targeted and destroyed by administering melittin-loaded nanoparticles.
The gel also has the potential to target sperm, the researchers explained, making it a possible contraceptive medication. The study, however, did not look at contraception.
Hood said “We also are looking at this for couples where only one of the partners has HIV, and they want to have a baby. These particles by themselves are actually very safe for sperm, for the same reason they are safe for vaginal cells.”