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HIV prevention hope: Yogurt bugs that make antiviral drugs

Researchers have come up with a novel delivery system for anti-AIDS drugs: milk-curdling bacteria used to make yogurt and cheese.

"We've found that you can engineer these bugs to secrete drugs in this case, a viricide that disables HIV," said Bharat Ramratnam, assistant professor of medicine at Brown Medical School and attending physician at Rhode Island Hospital and The Miriam Hospital. "The hope is to use the bacteria as the basis for a microbicide which can prevent sexual transmission of HIV."

Ramratnam oversaw the bug-to-drug experiments conducted by an international team of scientists who recently published their results in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes.

Ramratnam hatched the idea a few years ago after reading about an intriguing discovery: A protein called cynovirin binds to HIV and prevents it from entering cells in the mucous membranes a feat confirmed in both laboratory and animal studies. Ramratnam was already familiar with lactic acid bacteria, or LAB. They help make fermented foods such as yogurt and cheese by turning carbohydrates into lactic acid. LAB are also known for their "promiscuity," or the ability to accept foreign DNA, then produce proteins called for in these new genetic recipes.

So why not introduce cynovirin DNA into these bacterial protein factories?

That's what the research team tried. Using blasts of electric current, the team made tiny holes in LAB membranes and inserted circular bits of DNA that carry the recipe for cynovirin. The team succeeded: The genetically modified LAB began cranking out the HIV-blocking protein.

The hope is to use these bioengineered bacteria as the active ingredient in a microbicide a foam, cream or suppository that can be applied to, or inserted into, the vagina or anus before sex to prevent HIV transmission. Scientists around the world are trying to develop these topical drugs as weapons in the battle against HIV/AIDS, which has killed m
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Contact: Wendy Lawton
Wendy_Lawton@brown.edu
401-863-1862
Brown University
24-Jan-2006


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