Can What’s in Spit Prevent HIV?
WHAT IF AN ANSWER to the nightmare of the HIV epidemic was right under your nose all along? Literally, under the nose in the saliva of your mouth? Could human salivary proteins hold a key to inhibiting HIV transmission? Maybe so.
In the first study to explore this remarkable thesis in depth, NJMS researcher Min Lu, PhD, a professor of microbiology and molecular genetics at the NJMS-Public Health Research Institute (PHRI) and director of the Crystallography Core Facility, will share $3.2 million with co-investigator Daniel Malamud, PhD, MA, a longtime expert in saliva at New York University College of Dentistry, Director of the HIV/AIDS Research Program and a professor of basic science and craniofacial biology. Malamud, in fact, has been focusing on oral-based therapeutics for more than two decades. He believes, “After many years of predicting that saliva might replace blood and thus provide a non-invasive diagnostic matrix, it appears the future is now.”
Although a connection between salivary proteins and the protection they offer had been established, the mechanism behind this antiviral activity has not been fully understood. It will be Lu’s job to analyze the interactions of the proteins with HIV. In particular, the investigators will be evaluating whether a protein, known as gp340, found in saliva and other mucosal secretions, can actually prevent HIV transmission in vivo, using living mice. The new project will also look at the protective effect of gp340 on the cells in the female reproductive tracts of the mice.
“Existing drug therapy cannot eradicate this virus,” Lu says, “and drug-resistant variants are emerging at an alarming rate, making it imperative for new classes of drugs to be discovered to supplement or partially replace existing regimens.” Findings from this study, made possible by the funding from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases last August, could lead to the development of new antiviral drugs to protect against HIV. Lu’s research has relied on a combination of biophysical, structural and biochemical approaches to study the three-dimensional structure and biological function of HIV-1 glycoprotein complex. Dissecting these proteins in anatomic detail “allows us to attack fundamental mechanistic questions in biology,” he explains.