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Prevention of HIV infection: genetically modified lactic acid bacteria


Researchers have come up with a novel delivery system for anti-AIDS drugs: milk-curdling bacteria used to make yogurt and cheese.

" We've found that you can engineer these bugs to secrete drugs – in this case, a viricide that disables HIV," said Bharat Ramratnam, at Brown Medical School. " The hope is to use the bacteria as the basis for a microbicide which can prevent sexual transmission of HIV."

Ramratnam oversaw the bug-to-drug experiments conducted by an international team of scientists.

The study is published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes.

Ramratnam hatched the idea a few years ago after reading about an intriguing discovery: a protein called cynovirin binds to HIV and prevents it from entering cells in the mucous membranes – a feat confirmed in both laboratory and animal studies. Ramratnam was already familiar with lactic acid bacteria, or LAB. They help make fermented foods such as yogurt and cheese by turning carbohydrates into lactic acid. LAB are also known for their "promiscuity," or the ability to accept foreign DNA, then produce proteins called for in these new genetic recipes.

Using blasts of electric current, the team made tiny holes in LAB membranes and inserted circular bits of DNA that carry the recipe for cynovirin. The team succeeded: the genetically modified LAB began cranking out the HIV-blocking protein.

The hope is to use these bioengineered bacteria as the active ingredient in a microbicide – a foam, cream or suppository that can be applied to, or inserted into, the vagina or anus before sex to prevent HIV transmission.

Source: Brown University, 2006


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