Scientists in Australia say they've taken the first step toward developing a microbicide vaginal cream derived from cow's milk, of all things, that could protect women from contracting HIV during sex.
The accomplishment is significant in that it could ultimately become a cheap and efficient way to produce an HIV microbicide that's widely accessible around the world, particularly in developing countries. Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council and the Australian Centre for HIV and Hepatitis Virology Research--both government programs--backed the research effort by Melbourne University scientists and the Aussie biotech Immuron.
It's a sound place to start, turning to milk, because it contains antibodies that protect newborn calves from infections, and cows cannot contract HIV, the researchers explain. For starters, they vaccinated pregnant cows with an HIV protein. The initial milk the cows produced, known as colostrum, contained HIV antibodies. Scientists harvested those antibodies in the lab and found not only that they bind to HIV, but they blocked the virus from penetrating human cells. Their hope: to use the anti-HIV milk antibodies to produce a microbicide cream somewhere down the line that can help prevent HIV infections acquired through sex.
Thanks to the initial success in the lab, the research team is pursuing plans to advance its work in both animal and human studies. Their work is cut out for them, as efforts continue around the world toward developing a viable HIV vaccine. More more than 30 million people have HIV globally, the researchers note.
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