Researchers at the University of Melbourne have developed cows’ milk that protects human cells from HIV. The next step will be to develop it into a cream that women can apply to protect themselves from contracting HIV from sexual partners.
Data released today shows that in 2011 the number of people diagnosed with HIV in Australia was 1,137 up from 1,051 in 2010. Although it’s been reported in the media that the most recent increase has been driven by gay men, researchers in Melbourne are currently developing a cream to protect women from contracting HIV.
Working with Australian biotechnology company Immuron Ltd, Dr Marit Kramski and her colleagues from the University of Melbourne, vaccinated pregnant cows with a HIV protein and studied the first milk that cows produced after giving birth. The first milk, called the colostrum, is naturally packed with antibodies to protect the newborn calf from infections. Cows cannot contract HIV but the vaccinated cows produced HIV antibodies in their milk.
“We were able to harvest antibodies specific to the HIV surface protein from the milk,” said Dr Kramski, who is presenting her research this week as one of the winners of Fresh Science — a national program for early-career scientists.
“We have tested these antibodies and found in our laboratory experiments that they bind to HIV and that this inhibits the virus from infecting and entering human cells,” she said.
HIV-inhibiting antibodies from the cows’ milk will be developed into a cream called a microbicide that is applied into the vagina before and /or after sex to protect women from contracting sexually transmitted HIV infection.
Other microbicides are being developed around the world however, Dr Kramski says the antibodies in this research are easier and cheaper to produce than existing methods.
“We hope that our anti-HIV milk antibodies will provide a user-friendly, female-controlled, safe and effective tool for the prevention of sexually acquired HIV infection,” she said. “If proven effective in humans, it will empower women to protect themselves against HIV.”
Dr Kramski and her colleagues are currently developing plans to begin animal and human studies of the cream.