A study by the University of Michigan in the USA, published in the journal Journal of Biological Chemistry, has revealed that lectin (BenLec), a natural substance present in bananas, is as effective against HIV as two drugs used in treatment.
Lectins are proteins that bind to sugar and have the ability to identify external pathogens, such as viruses, and bind to these invaders. The authors of the study found that BenLec, the lectin of bananas can suppress infection by the AIDS virus by joining the protein of HIV-1 -gp120-, which contains sugar, and preventing it from entering the body.
After developing a method to obtain BenLec from bananas, the scientists found that its anti-HIV efficacy is similar to that of two drugs currently used to treat the disease: T-20 and maraviroc.
The study's director, Michael D. Swanson, explains that the HIV virus can mutate and become resistant to the drugs used to fight it; however, this is more complicated with the use of lectins, because these bind to sugars in different areas of the HIV envelope, which would force the virus to develop numerous mutations to avoid them.
Now, Swanson and his team intend to develop a method to modify BenLec so that its possibilities of use in clinical practice can be improved. Although it could be years before this substance could be used in HIV treatment, the researchers think it would be helpful, both alone and in combination with other drugs, and point out that with BenLec the therapies would be cheaper and would provide protection more espacious.