Washington, May 1 - A type of protein found in coral species in the ocean waters around Australia prevents the HIV virus, which causes AIDS, from penetrating the cells of the body's immune system, a new study says.
The research, headed by the National Cancer Institute's Barry O'Keefe, was presented at the annual Experimental Biology meeting in San Diego.
The proteins, called cnidarins, are found in coral collected from the waters along the northern Australian coast, and researchers are focusing on them after examining thousands of natural extracts in the biological archives of the National Cancer Institute.
The fact that this protein appears to block HIV infection - and to do it in a completely new way - makes this truly exciting, O'Keefe said.
The discovery opens the possibility of adapting cnidarins for use in sexual gels or lubricants to provide a barrier against HIV infection.
The cnidarins bind with the virus and prevent it from fusing with the membranes of T-cells - the first step in HIV transmission - and because this is very different from what other proteins do, scientists believe that the cnidarins have a unique mechanism of action.
The next step in the study is to improve the methods for producing cnidarin proteins in large quantities so they can be used to identify possible side effects and how they influence other types of viruses.