Stories about: microbicides

HIV prevention: Could fatty particles protect women worldwide from AIDS?

These hollow particles seemed to work with minimal tweaking.

HIV vaccines are in their infancy, and effective microbicides to prevent sexual transmission of HIV still don’t exist. Women, making up nearly half of the world’s 33 million HIV cases, are especially in need of protection. Here’s a new possible way for women to protect themselves before sex: an applicator filled with specially formulated fatty particles called liposomes.

The tiny spheres measure 4 microns in diameter, not visible without a microscope, and consist of a double outer layer of lipids (fats) and hollow centers. They’re relatively easy and cheap to engineer, and thus present a viable option for developing countries, where the cost of anti-HIV drugs, while falling, still bars access for most people.

In tests reported online this month in the journal Biomaterials, liposomes inhibited HIV infection in cell culture and appeared safe in female mice when given intravaginally.

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Blowing HIV’s cover

HIV-1 budding (in green) from a cultured lymphocyte. (Courtesy CDC)

HIV is unique among viruses in many ways. Here’s another: upon breaking into a cell, it erases evidence of its presence by exploiting a natural cellular “cleanup” mechanism. It thereby manages to dodge the innate immune system, the body’s first line of attack against invaders.

Investigators Judy Lieberman and Nan Yan, of the Program in Cellular and Molecular Medicine and the Immune Disease Institute, worked out how HIV does this and put together a counter-attack: disabling this cleanup mechanism.

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