Arizona State University Awarded $7.4M NIH Grant To Research Plant-Based MicrobicidesArizona State University has received a $7.4 million NIH grant for research on microbicides to prevent the sexual transmission of HIV, the Arizona Republic reports (Fehr-Snyder, Arizona Republic, 8/17). Microbicides include a range of products such as gels, films, sponges and other products that could help prevent the sexual transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Although HIV is transmitted primarily through heterosexual intercourse in much of Africa and Asia, no female-controlled HIV prevention method currently is widely available. An effective microbicide would be important for women in resource-poor countries whose partners refuse to use condoms (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/16). The Arizona State researchers will be working with the Center for Vaccine Development at the University of Maryland-Baltimore and San Diego-based Mapp Biopharmaceutical to modify the genetic code of tobacco plants to produce a protein that would prevent the transmission of HIV and other STDs, according to the Republic. Although the group also will conduct research on corn plants, Mapp CEO Kevin Whaley said that the group "prefers" using tobacco because the plant "has a lot of genetic information that is known" and it is not a food source, according to the Republic. The researchers hope to make a microbicide gel using a protein extracted from tobacco that could prevent STD transmission and be an effective contraceptive method. Charlie Arntzen, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology at Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute, said, "If microbicides are going to get beyond a wish list sort of thing, they're going to have to be much more affordable and easy to produce in great quantities" (Arizona Republic, 8/17).
Microbicide 'Critical Front' in Fighting AIDS
Developing an effective microbicide is a "critical front" in fighting HIV/AIDS, particularly in developing countries, a Republic editorial says. The HIV/AIDS epidemic is "tilting more and more toward females" in sub-Saharan Africa and many women are "defenseless against infection" because they cannot negotiate condom use with their husbands, the editorial says. The NIH grant to Arizona State and its partners is a "promising sign" that "we're waking up" to the challenges of preventing HIV in developing countries, the editorial says. The editorial concludes that the consequences of HIV spreading among women in developing countries are "staggering," and "[w]e must offer women an effective way to defend themselves" (Arizona Republic, 8/18).