Scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that melittin, a toxin found in bee venom, physically destroys the HIV virus, a breakthrough that could potentially lead to drugs that are immune to HIV resistance. The study was published Thursday in the journal Antiviral Therapy.
"Our hope is that in places where HIV is running rampant, people could use this as a preventative measure to stop the initial infection," Joshua Hood, one of the authors of the study, said in a statement.
The researchers attached melittin to nanoparticles that are physically smaller than HIV, which is smaller than body cells. The toxin rips holes in the virus' outer layer, destroying it, but the particles aren't large enough to damage body cells.
"Based on this finding, we propose that melittin-loaded nanoparticles are well-suited for use as topical vaginal HIV virucidal agents," they write.
Theoretically, the particles could also be injected into an HIV-positive person to eliminate the virus in the bloodstream.
Because the toxin attacks the virus' outer layer, the virus is likely unable to develop a resistance to the substance, which could make it more effective than other HIV drugs.
"Theoretically, melittin nanoparticles are not susceptible to HIV mutational resistance seen with standard HIV therapies," they write. "By disintegrating the [virus'] lipid envelope [it's] less likely to develop resistance to the melittin nanoparticles."
The group plans to soon test the gel in clinical trials.