Banana Compound May Lead to Treatment to Prevent Spread of HIV
University of Michigan Medical School scientists may have found an inhibitor of HIV derived from bananas that can help to prevent sexual transmission of the virus and reduce the spread of AIDS.
Lectins are naturally occurring proteins in plants that have sugar-binding sites in their cell walls which can cause biochemical changes in the cell. Banana lectins have the ability to stop reactions that lead to a variety of infections by binding to a pathogen and blocking its entry into the body. In laboratory studies, banana lectin was found to be as potent as two current anti-HIV drugs, T-20 and maraviroc.
The compound may also have the benefit of providing a wider range of protection because it appears to prevent virus mutation and resistance. "Lectins can bind to the sugars found on different spots of the HIV-1 envelope, and presumably it will take multiple mutations for the virus to get around them," says co-author Michael D. Swanson, a doctoral student in the graduate program in immunology at U-M Medical School.
The compound, called BanLec may potentially become a less expensive component of self-applied vaginal or anal microbicides allowing companies to distribute the products cheaply, particularly to women in impoverished countries. However, clinical use is still years away.
According to study senior author David Marvovitz, MD, professor of internal medicine, the rate of new HIV infections is outpacing the rate of new individuals receiving anti-retroviral drugs by 2.5 to 1. "HIV is still rampant in the U.S. and the explosion in poorer countries continues to be a bad problem because of tremendous human suffering and the cost of treating it," he says.
The use of a condom is still considered the most effective method to reduce the transmission of the HIV virus. However, it is often not used consistently and correctly.
Some investigators have estimated that coverage with a microbicide may only be 60% effective, however that may still prevent up to 2.5 million HIV infections in three years, according to the study authors.
The study will be published in the March 19 Journal of Biological Chemistry.