New discovery may decrease rate of sexual transmission of HIV

A new study conducted by scientists at the Queen Mary University of London made a new discovery that has the potential to help slow down the transmission of HIV during sexual encounters.

The study was designed to replicate the way in which the HIV virus bonds to immune system cells with a specifically designed macromolecule. Using several different sugar molecules, called glycopolymers, the sugars attached to the macromolecule, enabling scientists to observe which sugars could potentially best prevent the binding of an autoimmune cell and the HIV virus.

The scientists measured how the lab-created macromolecule raced to compete with the virus to bind to the dendritic immune system cells in varying concentrations. The results showed the potential to help decrease HIV transmission.

"These are preliminary but encouraging results for potentially preventing the spread of the HIV by sexual contact," Dr Remzi Becer from Queen Mary's School of Engineering and Materials Science said. "We've shown that our synthetic molecule binds to the immune cell, which in turn blocks the virus from attaching and entering. The precisely designed macromolecules could be an ingredient of a condom cream or vaginal gel to act as a physical barrier from allowing the virus into the body."

More research must be done to find the most effective sugar cell and develop that into a topical cream. Becer admits it isn't a cure for HIV, but may help decrease transmission.

"While this isn't a cure for HIV, it is a novel approach that could dramatically slow down the spread of HIV by sexual contact, and a model that could be replicated to treat other sexually transmitted diseases," Becer said.