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Major Breakthrough: Good Bacteria that Protects Against HIV Identified

Updated at: Apr 02, 2014
Written by: Ariba KhaliqPublished at: Apr 02, 2014
Major Breakthrough: Good Bacteria that Protects Against HIV Identified

Researchers have just made a breakthrough discovery in HIV prevention, and it all has to do with the vagina.

According to the World Health Organisation, 1.6 million people died of AIDS-related illnesses worldwide in 2012 and the number of people living with it in the same year were 35.3 million. The epidemic seriously needs to be curbed. But what can one do whene there still isn't a cure for it? Experts have shown some rays of hope.

AIDS preventionExperts from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston believe that bacteria can keep the deadly Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) at bay. In an article written in the PLOS ONE journal, they have said that they have identified some good bacteria'' that could protect women from HIV infection and other sexually transmitted infections; and it all has to do with the vagina.

How is it Possible?

The vagina contains a symbiotic population of good bacteria that feed on the vaginal skin and in exchange keep out bad bacteria and other contagions. Now, researchers believe that this physical and chemical barrier may be instrumental in keeping out STDs — including HIV.

Experts tested the theory by growing vaginal skin cells in a lab. The researchers then collected bacteria from women during gynecological exams. One group of skin cells was colonized with the healthy bacteria, while the other was not, and both groups were then given the same doses of HIV and antiviral drugs.

"Vaginal surfaces occupied by healthy bacteria and treated with the antiviral produced significantly less HIV than those vaginal surfaces without bacteria treated with the same antiviral," they found.

How Does this Help?

While the study sheds light on the female body's natural defense system, further research is needed to determine which specific strains of bacteria are most effective at keeping out STDs.

"This model is unique as it faithfully recreates the vaginal environment ex vivo, both in terms of the host cellular physiology and the associated complex vaginal microbiomes that could not previously be cultured," said Dr. Marc Baum, one of the study's co-author. "I believe it will be of immense value in the study of sexually transmitted infections."

While this bacteria-method may not be a fool-proof prevention for HIV, it could be developed to significantly lower that risk. And the vaginal skin cell model can be used to test which concentrations of bacteria are the best at keeping out HIV and other contagions.

Breakthroughs like this could be crucial in combating this terribly vicious disease.

Article Source: PolicyMic

Image Source: Getty Images

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