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Protein Found in Coral Might Stop HIV

Prevents virus from entering T cells

A protein in coral may be able to block HIV. (Photo: Getty Images)

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 1.6 million people died out of the 35.3 million living with HIV in 2012. But scientists at the National Cancer Institute's Center for Cancer Research may have found a solution to preventing HIV going forward. A group of proteins found in coral reefs might be capable of blocking HIV, reports

The proteins, also known as cnidarins, were harvested from a feathery coral that grows off the northern coast of Australia. What makes these little guys unique is their mechanism of action—they bind with HIV and stop any fusion with the membrane on the T cells—which is the first step when contracting the virus.

Researchers plan to use the cnidarins in sexual lubricants and gels as a barrier against the infection without causing the virus to become resistant to other HIV drugs. 

"It's always thrilling when you find a brand-new protein that nobody else has ever seen before," says senior investigator Barry O'Keefe, deputy chief of the Molecular Targets Laboratory at the Center for Cancer Research at the National Cancer Institute. "And the fact that this protein appears to block HIV infection—and to do it in a completely new way—makes this truly exciting."

Though this may sound like a miracle, there is still work to be done regarding the use of the protein. Researchers are testing for side effects and discussing efficient ways to harvest the protein without destroying coral reefs.

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Filed To: News
Lead Photo: Getty Images