Genetically Modified Vaginal Bacteria Could Serve as HIV Prevention Method, Study Says
Researchers have genetically modified bacteria normally present in the vagina in hopes that it could be used to protect against HIV infection, according to a study published in the Sept. 8 online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Orlando Sentinel/Baltimore Sun reports (Suriano, Orlando Sentinel/Baltimore Sun, 9/9). Researchers from Stanford University Medical Center genetically modified a strain of Lactobacillus jensenii -- bacteria abundant in mucous secreted by the mucous membrane lining the vagina -- to produce the protein CD4, which binds to HIV, according to the AP/Salt Lake Tribune (Schmid, AP/Salt Lake Tribune, 9/9). Once HIV latches onto the protein, the virus is destroyed by other substances, such as lactic acid, that naturally occur in the vagina, according to the Sentinel/Sun. Dr. Peter Lee, an assistant professor of medicine at Stanford University and a co-author of the study, said that the approach could be a "one-two punch" to prevent HIV transmission, adding, "We're using bacteria that naturally live in the (vaginal) membranes to block these viruses" (Orlando Sentinel/Baltimore Sun, 9/9). Lee said that the research could lead to the development of a vaginal suppository that women could use once per week to prevent HIV transmission, according to a Stanford University release. Lee added that the suppository would be "as discreet as can be," and the same technology could later be used to help prevent the transmission of other viruses, including human papillomavirus and herpes (Stanford release, 9/8). The research has "potentially far-reaching significance," including giving women in developing countries an inexpensive method to prevent HIV infection, according to the Sentinel/Sun (Orlando Sentinel/Baltimore Sun, 9/9).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.