Recently, researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis discovered that a toxin called melittin found in bee venom has the potential to kill HIV cells upon contact. When melittin is loaded onto nanoparticles it destroys the protective envelope surrounding HIV but not the human cells nearby. The nano particles had bumpers installed by the researcher, Samuel A. Wickline, MD, so that when they encountered normal cells they would not be damaged by the toxin. Normal cells are too large to touch the melittin because they are blocked by the bumpers, but the HIV structures are smaller and fit between the bumpers and therefore are touched by the bee venom.
One of the other researchers, Joshuhau Hood MD, explained ‘Melittin on the nanoparticles fuses with the viral envelope. “The melittin forms little pore-like attack complexes and ruptures the envelope, stripping it off the virus.’ (Source: Washington University)
The researchers said their melittin delivery method may be more effective, because it damages the virus in a significant way, but other drugs try to stop HIV from replicating. In some cases, HIV adapts and finds a way to continue replicating because the overall structure is not damaged by the drugs. Hood said in theory, there isn’t any way for HIV to adapt to having its protective envelope damaged and stripped away. Potential applications of melittin delivered by nanoparticles are a vaginal gel to target HIV before infection and an intravenous treatment of HIV infections.
Melittin has also been shown to damage tumors and greatly inhibit the bacteria that causes lyme disease. It is the main component of bee venom.
It is well known that chemicals found in Nature can have medicinal benefits for humans, such as Taxol which is used in cancer treatment and was first found in the bark of the Pacific Yew Tree. A University of Utah researcher discovered a toxin produced by a species of cone snail has the potential to be a very good medication to reduce pain in humans and there are other examples of chemical compounds from Nature having applications for our own health.
Tragically, bees worldwide are threatened by habit loss, parasites, viruses, climate change and exposure to agricultural chemicals.