Colony collapse disorder is decimating bee populations around the world. The possibility of losing our planet’s most industrious pollinator hasn’t motivated agencies like the EPA to protect them, but maybe this will: A team at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis recently used nanoparticles carrying a toxin found in bee venom to destroy HIV without harming nearby cells.
According to study results, which appear in the current issue of Antiviral Therapy, bee venom contains a potent toxin called melittin that can poke holes in the protective envelope that surrounds HIV, and other viruses. The paper’s senior author, Samuel A. Wickline, MD, the J. Russell Hornsby Professor of Biomedical Sciences, has even shown that melittin-loaded nanoparticles to be effective in killing tumor cells.
What other naturally occurring substance do you know of that can tackle both HIV and cancer? Exactly.
The study’s authors believe that with further research, they could be able to create a vaginal gel, loaded with the bee venom particles, that could help prevent the spread of HIV.
According to Joshua L. Hood, a research instructor in medicine involved in the study, most anti-HIV drugs inhibit the virus’s ability to replicate. But this anti-replication strategy does nothing to stop initial infection, and some strains of the virus have found ways around these drugs and reproduce anyway. The bee venom toxin is different because it attacks an essential part of the virus’ structure. 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,” 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.”
Because the bee venom toxin has been engineered not to attack healthy cells, a vaginal gel could be ideal for couples where one partner has HIV and they want to have a baby. It’s also theoretically possible that intravenous injections of the nanoparticles would be able to clear HIV from the blood stream, a virtual miracle for those who have tested positive.
Perfecting this treatment will take years. Let’s just hope the bees survive that long. Wouldn’t it be a shame to see a potential cure for HIV lost because we were too busy dumping bee-killing pesticides on everything in sight?