One of the areas of medical research that has made strong strides in recent years is in the efforts towards fighting HIV infection. While at this time there is still no cure for HIV, some promising new research has shown a potential solution. Studies undertaken at the University of Michigan Medical Center have shown that a molecule found in bananas may have an effect on HIV, managing to slow down the disease’s progress if not halt it entirely. While more research is needed to form any conclusions, this is an exciting step forward for the medical community.
These molecules, proteins known as lectins, performed as well as two anti-HIV prescription drugs in clinical tests. With results published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, the study goes on to show just how lectins may work in fighting HIV infection. Lectins have the ability to interfere with HIV infection because they naturally bind to sugars. When these proteins were introduced into blood in laboratory tests, they attached themselves to receptors on the casing of HIV cells or pathogens. That is because these casings were formed from sugar. Because the viruses were then covered in lectins, they were too bulky to be able to enter human cells, thus halting the disease in its tracks.
Lectins were first discovered and isolated over 100 years ago, and since then they have been involved in a wide range of clinical trials, including these latest ones to be used in fighting HIV infection. They occur throughout nature, but are found to be in high concentrations in sugary fruits such as bananas. In animals, they help to regulate cell adhesion, which is why they could be so beneficial in this type of function. Some other food sources rich in lectins include seeds, beans, nuts and cereal grains, although this study focused specifically on bananas.
More study is needed to determine how this process could be used in fighting HIV infection in human trials, but the researchers involved in this study were fairly optimistic. They concluded that the lectins found in bananas could be adapted for use in microbicide gels or even creams, as a natural alternative to the current synthetic drugs on the market. Many of these anti-HIV remedies come with extreme side effects, so if there is a natural alternative that can be used, this could spare patients from further unpleasant symptoms down the road.
These studies are important because at the moment over 1 million Americans have been diagnosed as HIV-positive. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, over 56,000 patients are diagnosed each year. This number is even higher worldwide, despite educational efforts. The tools for fighting HIV infection are currently limited, which is why researchers are continually trying to find new methods that will work, in an effort to give new hope for a cure. Natural remedies are always preferred, because they tend to be less costly, and have fewer side effects.