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Study Shows Bacteria Found in Yogurt May Help Fight HIV


Yogurt makers like to advertise the health benefits of eating their product.

VOA's Paige Kollock reports they may be right in a surprising way.

Scientists at Brown University in the Northeastern United States discovered that bacteria from yogurt can be made into a substance that helps fight HIV.

Led by Professor Bharat Ramratnam, they modified the bacteria to create cyanovirin -- a protein that protects the body from infection by microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

The hope is to use the bio-engineered yogurt bacteria as the active ingredient in a foam, cream or suppository that can be applied before sex to prevent HIV transmission.

Jim Turpin is a microbiologist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases outside Washington D.C. "One of the major hurdles in this area has been to be able to show that you can actually take these bacteria, engineer them to express the drug, or the inhibitor of the HIV, and then have it still be active."

Because the cyanovirinin would come from bacteria, which is inherently mutable, its effect could be short-term at best. But Turpin says it could provide a way for discordant couples, meaning one person who has HIV and one who does not, to have sexual intercourse. He also says human trials are a ways off.

"It may be five, ten years, or it may never happen, but, basic science-wise, we now have the confidence that we can produce these proteins in these bacterias, and that it has the potential to be a good strategy to prevent transmission," said Mr. Turpin.

Scientists hope bio-engineered yogurt would eventually provide a cheaper, more effective way of delivering AIDS drugs. Ramratnam hopes to have a treatment to test in animals beginning this summer and in humans after that.