A vaginal gel that affords both contraception and HIV protection using nanoparticles that carry bee venom is one of the bold, unconventional ideas that won a 2010 Grand Challenges Explorations grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Grand Challenges Explorations is a Gates Foundation initiative to foster innovative projects in areas where unorthodox thinking is most urgently needed. Recipients receive grants to explore creative solutions to global health issues.
Sam Wickline, MD, professor of medicine, of cell biology and physiology, of physics and of biomedical engineering at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis is one of 65 scientists selected in November to participate in the grant program.
Wickline proposes to develop a contraceptive, antiviral gel containing trillions of nanoparticles that will target both HIV and sperm and deliver a bee venom toxin that will incapacitate them.
"Sperm and HIV (the human immunodeficiency virus that can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS) are remarkably similar in their natural mechanism of genetic transmission," Wickline says. "Both need to fuse with their target cell in order to deliver their genetic payloads DNA in the case of sperm, and RNA in the case of HIV."
Wickline's plan is to use the very means by which sperm and HIV operate to destroy them.
"The idea is to trick each to fuse with a synthetic Trojan Horse a nanoparticle that will overwhelm sperm and HIV in numbers and in destructive power."
It is an unconventional and creative plan for sure, but it is grounded in proven technologies and research-based knowledge. If the idea shows promise, the initial seed money grant can lead to additional funding.
The Trojan Horse or decoy that will be used to attract the sperm and HIV is a lipid nanoparticle created by Wickline and colleague Gregory Lanza, MD, PhD, professor of medicine, that has already been prov
|Contact: Joni Westerhouse|
Washington University in St. Louis