Research performed at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, confirms nanoparticles carrying melittin toxin found in bee venom can destroy human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) while leaving surrounding cells intact.
Melittin, a peptide, is the principle active component of bee venom (apitoxin). Apitoxin is a bitter colorless liquid composed of active complex proteins, which causes localized inflammation and acts as an anticoagulant. The venom is produced in the abdomen of worker bees from a mixture of acidic and basic secretions.
Manufactured nanoparticles carrying melittin fuse with HIV, penetrating and rupturing the virus’s protective envelope. Molecular bumpers prevent the nanoparticles from harming the body’s normal cells, which are much larger in size.
The destructive effect of bee venom has also been seen in other virus models. Melittin attacks double-layered membranes indiscriminately. Thus hepatitis B and C would be vulnerable.
Researchers suggest the findings, published in Antiviral Therapy, could be used to manufacture a preventative vaginal gel. This would prevent the initial infection and spread of HIV, a precursor to AIDS, through sexual intercourse.
The discovery would also be applicable to newer, more effective drug therapies. Or theoretically the nanoparticles could be injected intravenously and clear HIV from the blood stream.
The advantage of a more direct assault therapy contrasts with traditional anti-HIV drugs which only hamper replication. The infection does not cease to exist; it is only hindered from proliferating with current treatments. Instead a melittin-nanoparticle therapy would eliminate the virus as it is attacking the inherent physical properties of the cell.
Bee venom has been used in other therapies for rheumatism and joint diseases.
Copious amounts of free-roaming melittin have been found to cause damage to tumor cells without harming normal cells, according to the paper’s senior author, Samuel A. Wickline, MD. Wickline is a J. Russell Hornsby Professor of Biomedical Sciences.
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