Bananas May Provide a Key to Preventing the Spread of HIV
by Tony Isaacs
Could bananas provide a key to preventing the spread of HIV? A new study published last month in Journal of Biological Chemistry has found that a lectin compound known as BanLec found in bananas is as effective in preventing the spread of HIV as two commonly prescribed drugs.
The study was conducted at the University of Michigan Medical School, where researchers found that BanLec was able to stop HIV from entering the body by connecting to the HIV type 1 envelope protein. Lectins are sugar binding proteins found in plants and can successfully recognize and bind to foreign invaders in the body. The BanLec compound had previously been shown to bind to high mannose carbohydrate structures, including those found on viruses such as the human immunodeficiency virus type-1 (HIV-1).
The research study abstract reported that the researchers "determined that BanLec inhibits primary and laboratory-adapted HIV-1 isolates of different tropisms and subtypes" and that "BanLec possesses potent anti-HIV activity." The researchers also found that BanLec compared favorably to T-20 and maraviroc, two anti-HIV drugs currently in clinical use.
According to the University of Michigan Medical School researchers, the study results suggest that BanLec could become a less expensive and highly effective new kind of vaginal microbicides.
"The problem with some HIV drugs is that the virus can mutate and become resistant, but that's much harder to do in the presence of lectins," said lead author Michael D. Swanson. "Lectins can bind to the sugars found on different spots of the HIV-1 envelope, and presumably it will take multiple mutations for the virus to get around them."
Swanson and his colleagues noted that even modest success in developing BanLec into a vaginal or anal microbicide could result in millions of lives being saved. For example, even 20 percent coverage with a microbicide that is only 60 percent effective against HIV might be able to prevent up to 2.5 million HIV infections in only three years. In addition, a BanLec ointment would be much cheaper to produce and distribute than anti-retroviral medications that require the production of synthetic components.
Without a doubt, new and affordable ways of stopping the spread of the HIV virus are needed desperately. Condoms are effective most of the time, but they are also frequently used incorrectly or inconsistently. In many cultures and developing countries women are not always in control of their sexual encounters and anti-viral drugs may be difficult and expensive to obtain. A cheap, long-lasting, self-applied ointment derived naturally from bananas could make a huge difference.