Scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found that nanoparticles carrying a toxin found in bee venom can destroy human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) while leaving surrounding cells unharmed.
This is a a breakthrough that could potentially lead to drugs that are immune to HIV resistance.
The study appears in the current issue of Antiviral Therapy.
Bee venom contains a potent toxin called melittin that can poke holes in the protective envelope that surrounds HIV, and other viruses. HIV is much smaller than the nanoparticles with which the toxin is attached to. When HIV comes across a nanoparticle it comes into direct contact with its surface, which is coated with the bee toxin, which destroys it.
Nanoparticles loaded with melittin do not harm normal, healthy cells though. Protective bumpers were added to the nanoparticles surface, so that when they come into contact with normal cells (which tend to be much larger), the nanoparticles bounce off rather than attach themselves.
Theoretically, the particles could also be injected into an HIV-positive person to eliminate the virus in the bloodstream.
Melittin attacks double-layered membranes indiscriminately, making it a potential for drug therapies beyond HIV infections.
In addition to anti-viral therapy, the paper’s senior author, Samuel A. Wickline, MD, the J. Russell Hornsby Professor of Biomedical Sciences, has shown melittin-loaded nanoparticles to be effective in killing tumor cells. Linking bee venom with anticancer therapies is not new, in 2004 Croatian scientists reported in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture that honey-bee products, including venom, could well have applications in cancer treatment and prevention.
The hepatitis B and C viruses, among several others, rely on the same type of protective envelope and could be targeted and destroyed by administering melittin-loaded nanoparticles. A gel formula also has the potential to target sperm, the researchers explained, making it a possible contraceptive medication.