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Combining Nature With Science to Potentially Cure HIV

From the blood of llamas to the bark of a tree, researchers are mining nature’s treasure trove in their search for treatments and even a cure for HIV.

The latest piece of research coming compliments of Mother Nature was published Wednesday in the journal Nature. Chemists at Yale have created a new way of making a nitrogen-based compound that inhibits HIV.

Batzelladine B is an anti-HIV chemical, an alkaloid specifically, found naturally in a bright red sponge in the Caribbean. The Yale scientists found an efficient way of making it themselves by using something called aromatic nitrogen heterocycles, a less reactive material for synthesizing alkaloids.

“We unmask the nitrogen in the last step,” said Seth Herzon, a Yale chemistry professor and co-author of the study, in a news release. “Using this approach, we’re able to streamline the synthesis in ways that are otherwise not possible. It’s a huge time saver.”

Herzon’s team was able to pursue a number of highly complex reactions, or transformations, with single steps. “We went for a home-run approach, “Herzon said. “Our results bring us to the natural product in a minimal number of steps.”

The process may be adapted to synthesize other compounds as well. Herzon said his team may be able to do it with other alkaloids including anti-cancer, anti-microbial, and other anti-HIV compounds.

Sea Creatures, Tree Bark and Llama Blood, Oh My

In June, Aphios Corporation completed enrollment for a phase II clinical trial on APH-0812 in Madrid, Spain. The medicine includes Bryostatin-1 and other compounds intended to reactivate latent HIV reservoirs so that the virus can then be eliminated by antiviral therapy or immunotherapy.

Bryostatin comes from a finger-sized sea creature. Meanwhile, researchers at AIDS Research Alliance are conducting trials using a compound called prostratin, which comes from the bark of a mamala tree, to treat HIV.

Healthline News reported last year that five HIV-neutralizing antibodies found in llama blood may someday be used in HIV vaccines. That discovery, published in PLOS Pathogens, was by scientists at University College London.

Even bee venom has been shown to kill HIV. Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis hope that one day a vaginal gel using compounds in the venom could help prevent the spread of HIV, particularly among sero-mixed couples wanting to have a baby, according to a news release.