Scientists at the Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology say they've made a key discovery that should help accelerate work on an effective topical microbicide to stop the sexual transmission of AIDS. The team says that the molecule surfen has demonstrated its effectiveness as an inhibitor of "semen-derived enhancer of viral infection," or SEVI, which amps up the infectiousness of HIV. In some cases, SEVI can increase the likelihood of infection by a factor of 100,000.
"Surprisingly, although HIV readily replicates once inside the body, the virus struggles to establish a beachhead of infection during sexual transmission," Dr. Warner Greene, senior author of the new study, explained in a news release from the Gladstone Institutes. "We have been studying SEVI, a naturally occurring factor present in semen that can make HIV thousands of times more infectious. Knowing more about surfen, a SEVI inhibitor, might enable us to lower transmission rates of HIV."
"Because SEVI can markedly influence HIV infectivity, it forms a rather attractive target for future therapies," said Greene. "For example, we might be able to create combination microbicides that include agents targeting both the virus and host factors promoting infection. Such combinations might greatly diminish the spread of HIV; it is a target we are energetically pursuing."