Could the humble soybean really provide us with a new and more effective HIV inhibitor that comes without the drug resistance problems found in current therapies?
Researchers at the George Mason-based National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases and the Department of Molecular and Microbiology have found that there is potential if further tests on genistein, a compound derived from soybeans and other plants, continue to show positive results.
“Instead of directly acting on the virus, genistein interferes with the cellular processes that are necessary for the virus to infect cells,” said lead researcher Yuntao Wu. “Thus, it makes the virus more difficult to become resistant to the drug. Our study is currently in its early stage. If clinically proven effective, genistein may be used as a complement treatment for HIV infection.”
HIV hijacks the surface sensors of our cells in order to replicate itself. Genistein, the compound derived from soybeans, is known as a “tyrosine kinase inhibitor.” That means it can block communication from a cell’s surface sensors to a cell’s interior. As such, it would retard HIV infiltration and proliferation in the body, effectively hampering the virus from spreading.
As mentioned above, genistein may have other benefits too. Due to the fact that it is a plant-based compound, it has the potential to offer a HIV treatment that could sidestep what is known as drug toxicity.
Many HIV patients are forced to take a combination of several drugs in order to stop HIV advancing in their bodies. As a result, HIV sufferers may become ill as a result of their daily regimen of drugs.
In addition to this, there is also the fact that HIV can mutate and become resistant to the drugs a sufferer is currently using. Genistein potentially would not be subject to such constraints or offer the toxicity side effects of other drugs.
Now, this isn’t the first time that the soybean compound has been eyed as a potential contender for a new wave of HIV treatments. Researchers have known of soybean’s potential HIV inhibiting properties since at least 2008, and a 2011 Chinese study investigated the potential of the mini-black soybean as a protease inhibitor that, again, could slow HIV spread in the body.
Soybeans have also been found to contain the potential for anti-cancer drugs, though extracting the precise compounds for refinement has been difficult.
Sadly though, it seems unlikely that a daily diet of genistein-rich food such as soybeans could, on its own, provide sufficient concentrations of the compound to offer HIV resistance.
“Although genistein is rich in several plants such as soybeans, it is still uncertain whether the amount of genistein we consume from eating soy is sufficient to inhibit HIV,” Wu is quoted as saying.
Wu and team are now attempting to research exactly the amounts that would be needed to offer health benefits and whether refining a drug treatment based on the compound will be viable. Alternatively, it may be that soybeans and other genistein-rich plants could be engineered to offer greater concentrations of genistein but, of course, this comes with its own set of limiting factors, not least of which is the potential wider environmental impact.
With an eye to the viability of treatment, genistein would never be a stand-alone HIV inhibitor, and certainly not an HIV cure.
What it does have the potential to be, however, is an inexpensive HIV inhibitor that might come with fewer medical issues than the current, harsh variety of drug treatments.
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