Cocktail of rice proteins neutralizes HIV in vitro, researchers find

Study results could be applied to prevention of virus in low-income countries

Group of researchers who took part in study (Agrotecnio-UdL)
Group of researchers who took part in study (Agrotecnio-UdL) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

July 31, 2018 01:00 PM

Using three different proteins from a single transgenic rice plant, researchers have managed to prevent HIV from entering human cells in vitro.

In addition, it was found that the components of the rice also help to block the infectivity of the virus, thus limiting its ability to establish an infection. This could be used to produce topical microbicides to inhibit HIV transmission. Microbicides are compounds that can be applied either in the vagina or rectum as protection against sexually transmitted diseases.

The group of researchers, from the University of Lleida and IrsiCaixa, pointed out that these microbicides could be easily implemented in low-income countries because of their low production cost and ease of application. They also found that the rice components increase potency against variants of HIV.

“This means that the production of microbicides from rice against HIV would not only reduce the costs compared to traditional production platforms, but also provide benefits in terms of microbicidal power,” explained Dr Julià Blanco, a researcher for IrsiCaixa, an institution that dedicates itself to the investigation of AIDS and HIV.

Virus spreading

Each year there are 1.8 million new cases of HIV throughout the world, most of them in Africa. Due to the lack of an effective vaccine against the virus, research not only focuses on treatments for HIV, but also on prevention methods to reduce the spread of infection.

Topical microbicides, therefore, present an affordable option for countries with limited resources, and difficulty accessing antiretroviral treatments or barrier contraceptives such as condoms.

Blanco pointed out that “in some cases, microbicides are the only option  for women to prevent HIV infection, as men are often reluctant to use a condom.”

Women worldwide are, in fact, twice as likely to become infected with HIV than men of the same age as them, according to data from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.

“Being realistic, this innovative strategy is the only way that the microbicide cocktails can be produced at a sufficiently low cost for countries that most need treatments for the prevention of HIV,” said Dr Paul Christou, researcher at the University of Lleida. 

The study has been published in the journal ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’.