Coral reef protein fights HIV infection

"It's always thrilling when you find a brand-new protein that nobody else has ever seen before," said Dr. Barry O'Keefe.
By Brooks Hays   |   April 30, 2014 at 5:12 PM

BETHESDA, Md., April 30 (UPI) -- A new protein, extracted from coral collected from reefs off the north coast of Australia, shows the ability to block HIV from entering and destroying immune cells, or T cells.

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute discovered that the proteins, called cnidarins, prove remarkably effective at quashing the transmission abilities of HIV. If the proteins stand up to further testing, they could be incorporated into sexual lubricants and gels as a new barrier against HIV infection.

Researcher Dr. Koreen Ramessar said the test results were "completely different from what we’ve seen with other proteins, so we think the cnidarin proteins have a unique mechanism of action."

What's more, the proteins proved capable HIV infection combatants without enabling the virus to become resistant to other HIV drugs.

Ramessar was joined by the study's lead investigator, Dr. Barry O'Keefe, in San Diego this week to present their research findings at this year's Experimental Biology 2014.

"It's always thrilling when you find a brand-new protein that nobody else has ever seen before," O'Keefe said. "And the fact that this protein appears to block HIV infection -- and to do it in a completely new way -- makes this truly exciting."

The proteins tested in the groundbreaking research were sourced from the National Cancer Institute's exhaustive repository of natural product extracts, featuring natural substances collected from all over the world.

O'Keefe called the repository a "national treasure," where "you never know what you might find."

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