A new class of proteins may actually be able to block HIV from entering T-cells. These new proteins are called cnidarins and have been located in the coral taken from some of the reef off Australia’s northern waters. The hope now is that these proteins may be adapted so they can be used as barriers to any HIV infection through lubricants, creams, or sexual gels. Researchers from the National Cancer Institute’s Center for Cancer Research in the Molecular Targets Laboratory are attempting to find the answer. The senior researcher at the laboratory, Barry O’Keefe, Ph.D. and deputy chief, indicates that it is a brand new protein that has not before been seen. This protein, taken from Australian coral, may prevent the spread of HIV if it can be manufactured as a sexual application.
The protein was discovered as scientists and researchers screened through thousands of extracts in their quest to stop HIV and AIDS. In the middle of the 2000s, the annual death rate from HIV was approximately 2.2 million. The number of deaths has decreased with 1.7 million deaths from AIDS in the year 2011. While this is a substantial decrease, there are 34 million people in the world still living with HIV. The majority of those infected live in Africa but about one-third of those with HIV live elsewhere. HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, causes the onset of the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, more commonly known as AIDS. With so many people infected with HIV, it is the hope of researchers to be able to take the protein found in the coral and create a form usable to help prevent a further spread of HIV.
Generally speaking, those who become infected with HIV live only an estimated nine years if they do not obtain treatment. HIV is spread through bodily fluids such as breast milk, vaginal fluid, semen, and blood. Because of the method in which the virus spreads, it is important to take precautions when engaging in sexual activities. If scientists can take the cnidarin protein from the coral and create a lubricant or cream, the ability to protect against HIV will be dramatically increased. In theory, the gel, cream, or lubricant could be used by a female without needing to rely on a condom.
When the National Cancer Institute ran tests on the protein against various laboratory strains of HIV, it was found that the protein was very potent against the virus. In fact, cnidarin seemed to bond to the virus and prevent the penetration of the virus into the cells. This cell penetration through the immune system is the beginning step in the transmission of the virus. One of the study’s investigators, Dr. Koreen Ramessar, indicated that this method of prevention is different and unique from how other proteins seem to block HIV. It appears that cnidarin blocks the virus with an uncommon method.
Another interesting aspect of this particular coral protein is that even while it may prevent HIV from spreading, it does not seem to impact other HIV treatment methods. That means that it does not appear to undermine already existing and successful treatment programs or encourage drug resistance in the virus to those other methods. Now, researchers must develop a way to create the protein in quantities and application methods suitable for testing and future usage.
By Dee Mueller
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