A strong possibility exists that new therapeutics directed against HIV may come from research on bananas, proving once again that the plant world holds enormous potential for cures. This potent new inhibitor of HIV, derived from bananas, may open the door to new treatments to prevent sexual transmission of HIV, according to a University of Michigan Medical School study published March 19 in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
Scientists have an emerging interest in lectins, naturally occurring chemicals in plants, because of their ability to halt the chain of reaction that leads to a variety of infections.In laboratory tests, BanLec (the lectin found in bananas) was clearly as potent as two anti-HIV drugs currently on the market. Based on these findings, BanLec may become a less expensive new component of applied vaginal microbicides, researchers say.
This banana extract could become one of the ways of stopping the spread of the HIV, which is a category of drug that is vitally needed. The rate of new infections of HIV is outpacing the rate of new individuals getting anti-retroviral drugs by 2.5 to1, and at present it appears an effective vaccine is years away. That's why bananas could step in and save the day.
Study senior author David Marvovitz, M.D., professor of internal medicine at the U-M Medical School, says that while condom use is quite effective, condoms are most successful in preventing infection if used consistently and correctly, which is often not the case, particularly in developing countries.
“[Some] women have little control over sexual encounters so development of a long-lasting, self-applied microbicide is very attractive,” Markovitz says. The most promising compounds for inhibiting vaginal and rectal HIV transmission are agents that block the virus prior to integration into its target cell, which is what this lectin appears to do.
Lectins are sugar-binding proteins. They can identify foreign invaders, like a virus, in the body, and attach themselves to the pathogen. The U-M team discovered that BanLec can inhibit HIV infection by binding to the sugar-rich HIV-1 envelope protein, gp120, and block its entry to the body. It's exciting because therapies using BanLec could be cheaper to create than current anti-retroviral medications which use synthetically produced components, plus BanLec may provide a wider range of protection, researchers say.