Bee Venom: A New Weapon Against AIDS

Medical school researchers discovered that nanoparticles carrying a toxin found in bee venom can destroy the human immune-deficiency virus. Note: An earlier version of this story was accompanied by an image of a wasp instead of the bee pictured above. We regret the error.

Nanoparticles carrying a toxin found in bee venom can destroy the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) while leaving surrounding cells unharmed, researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine have shown. The finding is an important step toward developing a vaginal gel that may prevent the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

“Our hope is that in places where HIV is running rampant, people could use this gel as a preventive measure to stop the initial infection,” says Joshua L. Hood, MD, PhD, a research instructor in medicine.

Bee venom contains a potent toxin called melittin that can poke holes in the protective envelope that surrounds HIV, and other viruses. The particles simply bounce off the larger normal cells.

“We are attacking an inherent physical property of HIV,” Hood says. ­“Theoretically, there isn’t any way for the virus to adapt to that.”

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