Could Coral Provide the Next HIV Prevention Tool?

Scientists say two new proteins discovered in a soft coral from the oceans of Northern Australia could become a new prevention technology.

BY Todd Heywood

May 19 2014 8:29 AM ET UPDATED: May 19 2014 8:29 AM ET

Scientists involved in the Molecular Targets Laboratory at the Center for Cancer Research at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) say they have discovered a new class of proteins which prevent HIV from binding to CD4 cells. The proteins were discovered in a soft coral referred to only as a "feathery coral," reports Medical News Today

Dr. Barry O'Keefe, who directs the program, told Medical News Today the discovery is exciting. 

"It's always thrilling when you find a brand-new protein that nobody else has ever seen before," O'Keefe says. "And the fact that this protein appears to block HIV infection -- and to do it in a completely new way -- makes this truly exciting."

The discovery was made as part of a review of natural product extracts as part of the NCI's biological repository. 

According to the report, the protein binds to the virus and prohibits its ability to fuse with a CD4, the white blood cell the virus infects in order to replicate. The scientists say the virus is unlikely to develop a resistance to the proteins, meaning they would are ideal candidates for inclusion in rectal and vaginal microbicides. Better yet, because the proteins have a completely unique impact on HIV, even if resistance is developed, people infected with HIV would still have all seven classes of current theraputics to access for treatment.