A bee venom has been found to destroy the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), while leaving surrounding cells unharmed. New research from Washington University’s school of medicine found that bee venom contains a potent toxin called melittin that can poke holes in the HIV virus envelope. The toxin is not only limited to HIV as melittin-loaded nanoparticles are effective in killing cancer tumor cells.
According to Dr Hood, the senior lead researcher Melittin on the nanoparticles fuses with the viral envelope. “The melittin forms little pore-like attack complexes and ruptures the envelope, stripping it off the virus,” Hood said.
The advantage is that the nanoparticles containing melittin attack the essential part of the virus stucture, rather than the current class of anti-HIV drugs which merely prevent the virus from replicating. Some strains of the virus have mutated rendering an inhibitory class of anti-viral medication useless.
“We are attacking an inherent physical property of HIV,” Hood says. “Theoretically, there isn’t any way for the virus to adapt to that. The virus has to have a protective coat, a double-layered membrane that covers the virus.”
“The basic particle that we are using in these experiments was developed many years ago as an artificial blood product,” Hood says. “It didn’t work very well for delivering oxygen, but it circulates safely in the body and gives us a nice platform that we can adapt to fight different kinds of infections.”
Since melittin attacks double-layered membranes indiscriminately, this concept is not limited to HIV. Many viruses, including hepatitis B and C, rely on the same kind of protective envelope and would be vulnerable to melittin-loaded nanoparticles.
Joshua L Hood, Andrew P Jallouk, Nancy Campbell, Lee Ratner, Samuel A Wickline. Cytolytic nanoparticles attenuate HIV-1 infectivity. Antiviral Therapy, 2012; 18 (1): 95 DOI: 10.3851/IMP2346