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Bananas as HIV-blockers

March 21, 2010


By Massie Santos Ballon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 20:04:00 03/19/2010

BANANAS MAY NOT REPLACE apples in the adage about having one a day keep the doctor away, but a compound in the fruit could help reduce the rate of infection for sexually transmitted diseases. American medical researchers have proposed developing products based on this banana compound that can reduce the ability of viruses such as the human immunodeficiency virus or HIV, which in turn causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), to infect people.

According to the 2008 report released by the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), approximately 33 million men, women and children worldwide are living with HIV. That same year, the UNAIDS report noted, nearly three million people were newly infected with HIV, a number some 30 percent lower than the peak of the HIV infections in 1996.

However, researchers from the University of Michigan Medical Center point out there are still more HIV-1 infections than there are newly infected people receiving antiviral therapy in low- and middle-income countries. (It’s worth remembering here that HIV-1 is the virus that causes AIDS. Very few HIV-2 infections are associated with AIDS and this latter infection generally develops more slowly and is seen as milder.)


Among the methods being developed to reduce the numbers of sexually transmitted infections are microbicides, products that can render viruses such as HIV less infective. At the University of Michigan Medical Center, the team led by internist Michael Swanson has identified a lectin or sugar-binding protein in ripe bananas they’ve called BanLec that could be used to block HIV-1 infections by preventing the virus from entering the body in the first place.

“BanLec is a potential component for an anti-viral microbicide that could be used to prevent the sexual transmission of HIV-1,” wrote Swanson and his colleagues in their paper that appeared in the March 19 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Previous studies showed that not all varieties of bananas produce lectins. Among those that do are the ones commonly known to Filipinos as latundan, lakatan, morado, radja, saba, tiparot and tindok. All of these banana varieties belong to the same species of edible banana known scientifically as Musa acuminata.

Might prove very useful

In tests conducted by Swanson and his colleagues comparing BanLec’s anti-HIV performance against other lectins known to have similar effects, and against two anti-HIV drugs on the market. The results showed that BanLec might prove very useful in developing lectin-based anti-HIV microbicides.

“Our studies indicate that BanLec is a new and promising member of the group of lectins that are able to inhibit HIV-1 infection,” Swanson and his colleagues concluded.

BanLec isn’t the only lectin that’s been identified as potentially having anti-HIV properties, but the researchers cautioned this isn’t a case of all lectins providing the same results. Some lectins, for instance, could be toxic and do more harm than good even if they might be able to inhibit HIV-1 infection.

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