Microbicide Containing Natural Compound Provides Protection in Monkeys Against Simian Version of HIV, Study Says
March 5, 2009
An experimental microbicide containing a naturally occurring compound provides protection in monkeys against the simian version of HIV by diminishing immune responses to the virus, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature, the Los Angeles Times reports. HIV typically spreads in the body by entering CD4+ T cells, which the immune system sends out to attack the virus after exposure. The compound -- called glycerol monolaurate, or GML -- works by inhibiting immune signals that dispatch the T cells to attack the infection. It is those T cells that HIV infects and uses to proliferate throughout the body (Engel, Los Angeles Times, 3/5). GML occurs naturally in the human body and already is approved for use as an antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory ingredient in cosmetics and toiletries, as well as an emulsifier in foods. In addition, each dose of GML used in the study costs less than one cent. According to the researchers, the study's findings have promising implications for the development of effective microbicides to prevent HIV (AFP/Google.com, 3/4).
According to the study authors, the research "represents a highly encouraging new lead in the search for an effective microbicide to prevent HIV transmission that meets the criteria of safety, affordability and efficacy" (Fox, Reuters, 3/4). Haase said that although the research "sounds counter-intuitive, halting the body's natural defense system might actually prevent transmission and rapid spread of the infection" (AFP/Google.com, 3/4). Charlene Dezzutti, laboratory network director of the Microbicides Trial Network at the University of Pittsburgh, said the research illustrates "a new approach to thinking about microbicides." She added that she believes scientists "definitely" could develop an effective microbicide before developing an HIV/AIDS vaccine. "It's just a matter of getting all the right pieces together," she said (Lauerman, Bloomberg, 3/4). Rowena Johnston, vice president of research for the Foundation for AIDS Research, said that if further studies confirm these results, "then this is really a fabulous new finding." She said that although future microbicide research could encounter setbacks, the study is "absolutely a great beginning to a research project."
According to Schlievert, women could apply the GML microbicide "an hour or so before they had sex" to protect against HIV transmission. In addition, the gel might provide protection against other sexually transmitted infections, such as chlamydia, he said (Minneapolis Star Tribune, 3/4). According to AFP/Google.com, Schlievert first identified the microbicidal properties of GML when studying the use of the compound in preventing toxic shock syndrome associated with tampons. He said research repeatedly has found that the compound is safe and has no effect on beneficial vaginal bacteria (AFP/Google.com, 3/4). Lorraine Teel, executive director of the Minnesota AIDS Project, said the gel could provide women with a way to prevent disease transmission in areas of the world where many people do not use condoms because of cultural or other pressures. The research has "absolutely enormous implications" for women worldwide, she said (Minneapolis Star Tribune, 3/4). Anthony Fauci, director of NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said an effective microbicide would "empower women to protect themselves in a sexual situation in which they may not have complete control" (Los Angeles Times, 3/5).
An abstract of the study is available online.
This article was provided by Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. It is a part of the publication Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report. Visit the Kaiser Family Foundation's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.