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Benign Digestive Tract Microbe Could Prevent HIV Transmission Through Breastmilk, Study Says
Lactobacillus, a benign microbe commonly found in the mouth, can bind to sugars on the surface of HIV and prevent it from infecting cells, a finding that could be used to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission through breastmilk, according to a study presented on Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, Reuters Health reports. Lin Tao, an associate professor of oral biology at the University of Illinois-ChicagoCollege of Dentistry, and colleagues identified 170 strains of Lactobacillus in saliva samples of more than 100 healthy volunteers (Gale, Reuters Health, 5/25). The researchers identified six strains of Lactobacillus that produced proteins capable of binding to mannose, a sugar on the surface of HIV. After further screening, the researchers identified two Lactobacillus strains capable of "trapping" HIV and preventing infection, according to an ASM release (ASM release, 5/25). "Unlike standard [anti]retroviral drugs, which are too toxic for newborns, Lactobacilli are friendly bacteria already inhabiting the human digestive tract and milk products, and so should pose no danger to infants," Tao said, adding that although "studies have been done so far only in the laboratory, we believe this work opens up new possibilities for preventing" HIV transmission through breastmilk (BBC News, 5/25). The researchers said that the discovery is promising because although HIV frequently mutates, the sugar coating on the virus largely remains the same, "presenting a ready target for Lactobacilli to attack no matter whether the virus particle itself is genetically altered," according to the release (ASM release, 5/25). The researchers are attempting to develop a formulation of Lactobacillus that can be administered to infants, Reuters Health reports (Reuters Health, 5/25). Each year, about 800,000 infants worldwide contract HIV through breastmilk, Reuters reports (Reuters, 5/25).
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