Bee venom could be the key to preventing HIV, scientists have found in a new study.
In a study in the current issue of Antiviral Therapy, it shows a chemical in the insect’s venom can destroy the virus while leaving surrounding cells unharmed.
A potent toxin in bee stings called melittin kills HIV cells by punching holes through their protective outer layer.
It is now being hailed as an important step towards developing a gel that could stem the spread of HIV.
Dr Joshua L. Hood, who took part in the study at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, said the bee toxin could be used in a vagina gel to prevent from spreading.
He said: ‘Our hope is that in places where HIV is running rampant, people could use this gel as a preventative measure to stop the initial infection.’
While most anti-HIV drugs inhibit the virus’s ability to replicate, bee toxin actually attacks the virus’s structure and prevents infection.
Hood added: ‘We are attacking an inherent physical property of HIV.
‘Theoretically, there isn’t any way for the virus to adapt to that.’
Beyond prevention in the form of a vaginal gel, Hood also sees potential for using the nanoparticles with melittin as therapy for existing HIV infections, especially in those that are drug-resistant.
The nanoparticles could be injected intravenously, and, in theory, would be able to clear HIV from the blood stream.
Doctors also suggested melitten therapy could also be an effective way to kill tumour cells.
Lead professor David Harrich said while it could not cure HIV, the modified protein had protected human cells from AIDS in laboratory tests.
In October last year, scientists found two South African woman who were able to create antibodies that killed 88 known strains of HIV. This has given scientists hope there could be a possible vaccine for the virus.
At the end of 2010, it was estimated 34 million people are living with HIV and AIDS worldwide.