Tiny particles packed with bee venom kill HIV

WASHINGTON U. – ST. LOUIS (US) — Researchers are a step closer to developing a vaginal gel to prevent the spread of HIV.

A team at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis used nanoparticles carrying a toxin found in bee venom to destroy HIV without harming nearby cells.

“Our hope is that in places where HIV is running rampant, people could use this gel as a preventive measure to stop the initial infection,” says Joshua L. Hood, a research instructor in medicine.

The study appears in the current issue of Antiviral Therapy.

Bee venom contains a potent toxin called melittin that can poke holes in the protective envelope that surrounds HIV, and other viruses. Large amounts of free melittin can cause a lot of damage.

The new study shows that melittin loaded onto these nanoparticles does not harm normal cells. That’s because Hood added protective bumpers to the nanoparticle surface. When the nanoparticles come into contact with normal cells, which are much larger in size, the particles simply bounce off.

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), on the other hand, is even smaller than the nanoparticle, so HIV fits between the bumpers and makes contact with the surface of the nanoparticle, where the bee toxin awaits.

“Melittin on the nanoparticles fuses with the viral envelope,” Hood says. “The melittin forms little pore-like attack complexes and ruptures the envelope, stripping it off the virus.”

According to Hood, an advantage of this approach is that the nanoparticle attacks an essential part of the virus’ structure. In contrast, most anti-HIV drugs inhibit the virus’s ability to replicate. But this anti-replication strategy does nothing to stop initial infection, and some strains of the virus have found ways around these drugs and reproduce anyway.

“We are attacking an inherent physical property of HIV,” Hood says. “Theoretically, there isn’t any way for the virus to adapt to that. The virus has to have a protective coat, a double-layered membrane that covers the virus.”

Beyond prevention in the form of a vaginal gel, Hood also sees potential for using nanoparticles with melittin as therapy for existing HIV infections, especially those that are drug-resistant. The nanoparticles could be injected intravenously and, in theory, would be able to clear HIV from the blood stream.

“The basic particle that we are using in these experiments was developed many years ago as an artificial blood product,” Hood says. “It didn’t work very well for delivering oxygen, but it circulates safely in the body and gives us a nice platform that we can adapt to fight different kinds of infections.”

Since melittin attacks double-layered membranes indiscriminately, this concept is not limited to HIV. Many viruses, including hepatitis B and C, rely on the same kind of protective envelope and would be vulnerable to melittin-loaded nanoparticles.

While this particular paper does not address contraception, Hood says the gel easily could be adapted to target sperm as well as HIV. But in some cases people may only want the HIV protection.

“We also are looking at this for couples where only one of the partners has HIV, and they want to have a baby,” Hood says. “These particles by themselves are actually very safe for sperm, for the same reason they are safe for vaginal cells.”

While this work was done in cells in a laboratory environment, Hood and his colleagues say the nanoparticles are easy to manufacture in large enough quantities to supply them for future clinical trials.

A grant from the the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation supported the study.

Source: Washington University in St. Louis

chat16 Comments


  1. Scott Wagner

    Hmmm … interesting. If melittin is such an effective toxin, and binds with nanoparticles, can this combo be used as an anti-tumor agent as well? I recently read that nanoparticle / antibody combos are being effectively used to differentiate tumor cells from normal cells.

  2. Dr.Babul Debnath

    Hope…congrats …save life .

  3. DC

    And we are killing the bees all over the world. Everything has a purpose on this planet to save us and we are killing it. Are we suicidal?
    Pesticide that kills bees ‘must be banned’

  4. Lachie

    Love the lateral thinking
    Love the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

  5. Maheswar Satpathy

    That sounds really interesting. I hope we are able to tap great benefits out of nature, while still caring for it …

  6. Mark Antony

    lets hope the scientists can tap the benefits before big business kills off all the bees..Colony Collapse Disorder.

  7. Frank

    @Scott Wagner – this specific system would not be able to be used, it is effective because only small particles (such as viruses but not human cells) can get close enough to the melittin, to my knowledge (not an expect on nanoparticles) the way the nanoparticle/antibody systems work is that the antibody causes the combo to accumulate in the tumor cells and that irradiation causes the nanoparticles to heat up and kill the surrounding cells (which are primarily tumor cells), if the toxin were coupled with an antibody and the ‘bumpers’ removed to allow for the toxin to interact with larger cells I think the toxin would just attack indiscriminately before it would have time to accumulate in a tumor cell

  8. Bill

    Sounds wonderful, but
    I hope the FDA doesn’t ban it if it works.

  9. martin

    @Scott Wagner

    There is a method developed in Germany which could easily attack cancer cells. The idea isn´t that well new, i think, but the effects are well proven on tumor cells. The idea is to identifly the DNA of the specific tumor cells and then find in silico, i assume, the corresponding t-helpercells which attack the surface/envelope of those specific cells. Then you have to write the corresponding DNA of those t-helper cells, mix that DNA, that will be the next step, then with the blood of the person and inject it into the person. So you kind of have a “wanted list” of the tumor cells which will be captured and destroyed by the therefore “programmed” helper cells.

  10. martin


    Nature has developed over the millions of times thru evolution the best chemists, alias bacteria, and has plenty of cures just sitting in front of our yard. I recommend everybody to read an elementary biochemical book. The rainforest is a natural pharmacy.

  11. Young

    The bee venom in my language is called Afara Oyin in Nigeria,how do u apply it incase thanks!

  12. Urban Fuentes Backman

    Very interesting article!
    It is already know that bee venom can help and cure several medical conditions for example:

    For example:
    Multiple Sclerosis
    Temporal Arteritis and Polymyalgia Rheumatic.
    Lyme Disease

    Read more here:

  13. dong

    we can offer you bee venom (over 90%-99%) , price is rmb400 /g (approx euro52.00/g)


    packing : brown plastic bottle ,plus carton box

    minimum 50g

    if you want liquid , you can add some distilled water into it

    shipping cost ​ rmb200 (approx euro26) via ems expres

    total euro2626.00

    if you want more info , pls contact me

  14. dong

    we can offer you bee venom (over 90%-99%) , price is rmb400 /g (approx euro52.00/g)


    packing : brown plastic bottle ,plus carton box

    minimum 50g

    if you want liquid , you can add some distilled water into it

    shipping cost ​ rmb200 (approx euro26) via ems expres

    total euro2626.00

    if you want more info , pls contact me

  15. Denise

    How does it work im interested as my partner is hiv positive n we been together 6yrs

  16. dusan maric

    Dear Sirs,
    I can collect and sell bee venom with an amount of about 3 kg. Price is 35 euros / g. pack of 10, 50, 100 g of dry matter during the collection of the May to July of 2014, if you need please for your reply.
    I am from the Republic of Macedonia
    Dusan beekeeper

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