Could a Bee Venom-Based Vaginal Gel End HIV?

Could a vaginal gel derived from the humble bee’s venom provide the answer to at last effectively end the spread of HIV?

A new study from Washington University’s School of Medicine details how a toxin found in bee venom can, when loaded on†specifically†tailored nanoparticles, destroy human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) while leaving surrounding cells unharmed.

The potent toxin melittin, which is responsible for the†inflammation†and pain after a bee sting, has been known to researchers as having potential anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties. The research team wondered whether the toxin would be able to break through HIV’s robust protective layers but knew that large amounts of free melittin can be dangerous as, on its own, the toxin doesn’t discriminate between cells.

As such, researchers decided to shroud the toxin in nanoparticles so as to create what the researchers have termed a “bumper” that rebuffs larger particles like healthy human cells but still lets the smaller virus cells through the nanoparticle buffer, exposing them to the toxin.

Lead researcher†Joshua L. Hood, MD, PhD, a research instructor in medicine, explains, “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. We are attacking an inherent physical property of HIV. 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.”

Hood emphasizes that attacking HIV in this way damages an essential part of the virus’ structure, something that most anti-HIV drugs, which focus on inhibiting the virus’ ability to replicate, cannot do and so cannot stop the initial infection. Moreover, a number of strains of the virus have now adapted to certain retrovirals and can continue to reproduce.

The team hopes they could create a vaginal gel containing the nanoparticle and melittin combination that would act as an effective barrier method against HIV transmission. Moreover, they are optimistic — though this is an early stage of research — that the method could perhaps be adapted as an intravenous therapy to clear drug-resistant HIV strains from the bloodstream.

As Hood notes, this method is based on research that went into creating an artificial blood product. The outcome in that instance was less†successful, but the technique gave scientists a method by which they could begin to develop ways of specifically†targeting†viruses like HIV.

Researchers point out that melittin is not only effective against HIV. Scientists believe that the treatment could be tailored to target many different viruses, including hepatitis B and C — indeed mostly any virus that relies on the same kind of “protective envelope” that would be vulnerable to melittin-loaded nanoparticles.

Interestingly, while the research did not tackle the issue of turning this treatment toward contraception, in theory the gel could be adapted to target sperm and, perhaps even more interestingly, could be engineered to allow HIV-infected parents to conceive a child and ensure that child remains free of the virus.

The scientists believe that even though this research has only been trialed in a laboratory setting, the nanoparticles will be easy to manufacture to allow for larger clinical trials.

The aim of this is to one day be able to create a low-cost gel that would be able to stop the initial HIV infection. This will be particularly useful where religious and societal stigma has meant that at-risk populations are unwilling to use barrier methods like condoms.

It should be noted that this research, supported by a grant from the the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,†is only in its very early stages. However, the research comes at a time when research into eradicating HIV is yielding considerable promise, including news that surfaced in the past few weeks of a child who, for the first time in medical history, has been effectively cured of HIV.

The study appears in the current issue of†Antiviral Therapy.


Related Reading:

Parasite Drives Honey†Bees to Zombie Flight?

Our Phone Calls May Be Killing the†Bees

Bees Can Tell a Monet From a Picasso (Can You?)

Image credit: Thinkstock.


Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson4 years ago

an interesting read. thank you

char l.
Past Member 4 years ago

Really, Dianne D? "God" lets people contract AIDS and die from it? You are certainly assuming a lot, since "God" hasn't made any proclamations that I know of. More like, YOU think they ought to be punished for their "lifestyle choices". Of course, a lot of people who didn't make any choices at all die from it, too. I suppose that is also "God's will". Or "Inshallah."

Urban B.
Urban B.4 years ago

Very interesting article!
It is already know that bee venom can help and cure several medical conditions for example:

For example:
Multiple Sclerosis
Temporal Arteritis and Polymyalgia Rheumatic.
Lyme Disease

Read more here:

Mari Garcia
Mari Garcia4 years ago

This is great news! I hope they perfect it.

Liliana Garcia
Liliana Garcia4 years ago

Leave the bees alone, something else will pop up next, and yet another species will be sacrificed. Be it frogs, rabbits or squirrels. Funny we make a big issue about other cultures using horns as aphrodisiacs but then we can kill off bees, their numbers already dwindling, to counter a virus that's been with us now for three decades, ( as far as we know). And even worse, what will the medical trials entail, getting minority or "third world women" to infect themselves and then see if the venom really works? Cute!

Dianne D.
Dianne D4 years ago

The bee's are in decline and they are essential to our food supply. We can't afford to kill any more bee's for this type of research. Humans need to take responsibility for themselves. So glad to see so many of the commenters agree with me, or I them. There is a reaon why God permits these people to get the disease and to die from it.

Elliot C.
Elliot Corner4 years ago

To all those who are angry about the bees being 'exploited', I would imagine that Scientists will easily discover how to synthesise the toxin in a laboratory, thus being able to create it without harming any further bees.

How much more cost effective is that than catching or breeding hundreds of Bees?

Danuta Watola
Danuta W4 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Sandy Maytham
Sandy Hare4 years ago

Good heavens just let our animals and creatures on this planet be - why all the meddling all the time to find cures for humans who dont give a fig for the plant and all that lives here ;(

Quanta Kiran
Quanta K4 years ago