Chemical in Bananas May Prevent and Treat HIV

A chemical
in bananas
has been
found to
inhibit HIV,
to research
from a University of Michigan
Medical School published in the

March 19 issue of the Journal of
Biological Chemistry. According
to the study authors, this may
lead to the development of
inexpensive microbicides to
prevent HIV transmission and,
quite possibly, novel compounds
to treat the disease.
Mannose-specific lectins—
naturally occurring chemicals in
plants that bind to sugars on the
surface of disease-causing
microorganisms such as viruses
—have been of interest to
researchers, given their ability to
halt the chain of reaction that
leads to a variety of infections.
The test tube studies conducted
by Michael Swanson, a doctoral
student at the University of
Michigan, and his colleagues,
indicate that a lectin isolated
from the common banana binds
to the sugar-rich HIV envelop
protein gp120. Not only may this
prove useful in the development
of vaginal and rectal microbicides
to prevent HIV transmission,
Swanson and his fellow authors
speculate, but the HIV-inhibiting
lectin—dubbed BanLec—may
also have therapeutic potential.
The University of Michigan team
discovered that BanLec is similar
in potency to Fuzeon
(enfuvirtide) and Selzentry
(maraviroc), two U.S. Food and
Drug Administration–approved
fusion/entry inhibitors.
Swanson’s group argues,
however, that BanLec could be
cheaper to create than current
antiretrovirals, which use
synthetically produced
BanLec may also provide a wide
range of preventive and
therapeutic protection against
drug-resistant virus. “The
problem with some HIV drugs is
that the virus can mutate and
become resistant, but that’s
much harder to do in the
presence of lectins,” Swanson
said. “Lectins can bind to the
sugars found on different spots
of the HIV envelope, and
presumably it will take multiple
mutations for the virus to get
around them.”
Swanson pointed out that the
clinical use of BanLec is years
away. But he is currently
developing a process to
molecularly alter BanLec to
enhance its potential clinical

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