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Defense peptide found in primates may block some human HIV transmissions

As primates evolved 7 million years ago, the more advanced species stopped making a protein that University of Central Florida researchers believe can effectively block the HIV-1 virus from entering and infecting blood cells.

HIV-1 often mutates quickly to overcome antiviral compounds designed to prevent infections. But a research team led by Associate Professor Alexander Cole of UCF's Burnett College of Biomedical Sciences has demonstrated that over 100 days the virus develops only weak resistance to retrocyclin, a defense peptide still found in monkeys and lower primates.

If additional laboratory tests demonstrate only weak resistance, Cole will study how retrocyclin could be developed into a drug designed to prevent the HIV virus from entering human cells.

Cole is also working with Henry Daniell, a UCF professor of molecular biology and microbiology, to develop a way to grow retrocyclin through genetically engineered tobacco plants. The retrocyclin gene would be incorporated into the chloroplast genome of tobacco cells before the plants grow. Daniell has developed a similar approach to growing anthrax vaccine in tobacco plants.

An inexpensive way to produce the drug with only a small amount of tobacco would help to make it accessible in areas such as Southeast Asia, Africa and the Caribbean where the disease spreads most quickly.

"If we could develop retrocyclin in plants and produce enough of the drug cheaply, we could potentially save a lot of lives," Cole said.

Cole was recently awarded about $4 million of National Institutes of Health grants through 2011 for the HIV-1 research and similar studies. The grants were provided through the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Cole started his research into theta-defensins at the University of California, Los Angeles, before he mov
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Source:University of Central Florida


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