Female Hormone Oestrogen Could Help Prevent HIV Transmission in Men, Study Finds
The female hormone oestrogen when applied to the penis boosts a defensive protein that acts as a "living condom" and could reduce a man's risk of contracting HIV, according to a study published online Wednesday in PLoS One, the AAP/New Zealand Herald reports.
For the study, Andrew Pask of the University of Melbourne and colleagues applied the oestrogen cream Oestriol to the inner foreskin of the penis. Oestrogen is currently used to treat prolapse in women, the AAP/Herald reports. The researchers found that applying oestrogen increased the defensive protein keratin in the skin by four-fold, which acted as a barrier against HIV (Best, AAP/New Zealand Herald, 6/4). Roger Short -- a professor at the University of Melbourne Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences and co-author of the study -- said that keratin creates a "natural condom" or a "biological membrane which [HIV] can't get through" (AFP/Google.com, 6/4).
Pask said that by "using keratin, we can increase the body's natural defense ... and then the virus can't physically inject itself through that barrier to infect cells underneath." He added, "It's not a contraception ... but it is a living condom and a perfect protection against HIV." The treatment has worked in laboratory tests and will undergo clinical trials in Africa, the AAP/Herald reports (AAP/New Zealand Herald, 6/4).
"We have found a new avenue to possibly prevent HIV infection of the penis," Short said, adding, "In countries where circumcision is not religiously or culturally accepted, oestrogen treatments to the penis could be very effective in reducing the spread of the disease" (Xinhua/People's Daily, 6/4). Although the treatment did not protect against other sexually transmitted infections, Pask said it could be a simple, inexpensive and effective guard against HIV that could be applied once weekly or eventually have applications in condoms and lubricants. Pask added that the treatment could significantly reduce HIV/AIDS caseloads over time. "Mathematical models would predict that within say 50 or 60 years, that the level of HIV in the world would be significantly reduced," he said (AAP/New Zealand Herald, 6/4).
The study is available online.