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Wednesday, September 10, 2003


'Living Condom' to fight HIV transmission

Genetically-modified vaginal bacteria may be able to serve as a "living condom", secreting proteins that protect women against HIV, says a new report. Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers described the findings as an "important first step" towards finding a bacteria HIV-blocker. The bacteria has already successfully kill the HIV virus in test tube experiments.
Peter Lee of Stanford University in California, leader of the research team, says the vaginal native bacteria, Lactobacillus jensenii was chosen and genetically-engineered to secrete a soluble protein called "2D CD4". "2D CD4" which binds with HIV and reduces the rate of HIV infection in susceptible cells by at least half. This has been reported here and here.
Lee's group has already developed freeze-dried tablets of bacteria that can be stored up to a year without refrigeration. Human trials of other strains of natural lactobacillus suggest these microbes can successfully colonise the vagina for days or even weeks and therefore need not be applied soon before sexual exposure. The advantage of this "living condom", researchers said, is that unlike latex condoms or chemical condoms, the bugs could persist for weeks at a time, offering protection throughout this period.
These "living condoms" will be especially valuable in countries where cultural conventions make it difficult for women to demand their partners use condoms. They also empower the women to selfprotect prior to any sexual encounter. The effects, these bugs have on sperms and hence fertility are not yet known. One factor which may limit its use is the fear some societies may have about genetically modified organisms. Prevention of HIV infection is a situation where the benefit to risk ratio is so high, that fears about genetically modification would be overcome. Anyway it would be years before these "living condoms" are available on the supermarket shelves. In the meanwhile, while waiting for these "living condoms", practise SafeSex.



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