Sunday, March 10, 2013

Nanoparticles with bee venom can prevent HIV infection

­HIV is one of the greatest killers worldwide. Responsible for 1.7 million deaths in 2011, the virus causes the immune system to be weakened, leaving the body vulnerable to attack. The main reason that HIV is so deadly is that there is no cure for it, only treatments that can possibly extend the life of someone who is infected. This makes it crucial for people to stop the infection before it reaches them, something that could be made much easier with nanomedicine.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis are in the process of developing a drug that can not only kill off the HIV virus before one becomes infected, but can be able to kill of the virus when injected intravenously. The drug is not typical—it uses bee venom inside nanoparticles smaller than the virus, to kill it. The key component of bee venom inside the nanoparticle is melittin. Melittin is able to make small holes in cells, the HIV virus in this case, that will make it unable to harm the immune system.

The melittin has another effect, though, which is that it can fuse with the protective coating, called the viral envelope, that stays on the outside of the virus. This enables it to attack the virus and nothing else. The melittin-coated particle has shown to be harmless to all parts of the human body. With any type of virus removal in the human body there is always a worry that the virus will adapt, creating an even stronger virus that is more deadly than the original. This is a legitimate fear for much of the viral treatment that we use today, but is not a problem when attacking the viral envelope. Because the viral envelope is such an integral part of a virus, HIV is unable to adapt and remove it, which is the only way it could defend itself against milittin.

This nanoparticle seems like a very effective solution to HIV, but how will it be used? The first potential use for the nanoparticle is for it to be implemented into a vaginal gel. This gel could be used to simply prevent one partner from being effected with HIV, but could also work as a contraceptive and target sperm as well, or in place of HIV. There are many cases of couples where one partner is infected with HIV and the other isn't, but they want to have kids. The gel would kill off the HIV and the sperm would remain safe, allowing the children and mother to remain safe from the infection. Intravenous injection could be another use of this nanoparticle. When injected intravenously it would be able to kill all the HIV in one's blood, making the person much more healthy and possibly curing them at a young age.

This type of nanoparticle has potential to remove other types of diseases from the body as well. Viruses like hepatitis B and C have the same type of viral envelope as HIV, so they could be cured through intravenous methods using the same nanoparticle. Since the nanoparticle will be cheap to produce, it has the potential to be accessible where solutions to HIV carries the greatest burden, in developing countries.

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