In the latest issue of Antiviral Therapy, scientist reported that nanoparticles containing the bee venom toxin, melittin, has the ability to destroy HIV, whilst leaving surrounding tissues and cells unharmed.
The melittin is able to break up the viral envelope that surrounds HIV and other viruses. As early as 2004, it was shown that melittin has the capacity to kill tumour cells, but this is the first time these effects on viruses, have been observed.
In the new study, scientists designed nanoparticles with protective bumpers, which made them bump off normal cells that tend to be much larger in size. HIV on the other hand is much smaller and fits in between these bumpers and therefore comes into direct contact with the melittin coated nanoparticle surface. The toxin destroys the HIV by breaking up the viral envelope, whilst leaving the normal cells apparently unscathed.
How would this improve on existing treatments for HIV?. Current Antiretroviral drugs, interfere with the HIV replication process, and this means that there is a high risk of developing resistance to the treatments. The melittin however, interferes with an integral part of the virus, which means resistance would not be an issue. It also has potential for development as a vaginal or rectal gel, to prevent the spread of HIV infection.
Other viruses such as Hepatitis B and C might also be treated by using the same method. As usual, nature seems to be a few steps ahead of us.