August 2, 2013
Researchers at George Mason University (GMU) are in the early stages of experimenting with genistein, a compound in soybeans and other plants, as an effective HIV treatment.
Genistein is a tyrosine kinase inhibitor, which blocks cell communication. Normally, sensors on the cell's surface communicate with the cell's interior as well as with other cells. HIV tricks the surface sensors into sending signals to the interior that change the cell's structure and allow the virus to enter and infect it. According to Yuntao Wu, a professor with the GMU-based National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases and the Department of Molecular and Microbiology, genistein disrups this cellular deception that allows the virus to infect cells. This approach differs from that of antiretrovirals, which attack the virus itself. The researchers believe that manipulating the cell rather than the virus might be more successful in preventing drug resistance.
Wu noted that the research is in an early stage, but if genistein proves to be effective, it could be used along with current HIV treatment. Wu also believes that the plant-based approach could reduce the common side effect of drug toxicity caused by the frequency and lifelong duration of multidrug treatments to which HIV-infected individuals must adhere. The researchers are working to determine the amount of genistein needed to inhibit HIV and whether the level of genistein found naturally in plants would be enough or if they would need to develop drugs.
Due to sequestration-based budget cuts, the lab has had to locate new ways to fund its research, including the "NYC DC AIDS Research Ride" cycling fundraiser, which previously raised money for the lab.
The full report, "Genistein Interferes With SDF-1- and HIV-Mediated Actin Dynamics and Inhibits HIV Infection of Resting CD4 T Cells," was published online in the journal Retrovirology (2013; 10 (1): 62 doi: 10.1186/1742-4690-10-62).