As a cure for AIDS? – A potent new inhibitor of HIV, derived from bananas, may open the door to new treatments to prevent sexual transmission of the disease. This could be especiallyimportant for Africa, where AIDS patients do not have access to costly drugs, but where bananas could be grown (We once thought this fruit was going to disappear, but it’s still going strong). New cures for diseases is one of the fascinating subjects that Anne Strieber discusses with Russell Targ on this week’s Dreamland.

Scientists have an emerging interest in lectins, naturally occurring chemicals in plants, because of their ability to halt the chain of reaction that leads to a variety of infections. When BanLec, the lectin found in bananas, was tested, it was found to be as potent as two current anti-HIV drugs. It may become a less expensive new component of a barrier that can be applied by women before having sex, since heterosexually transmitted HIV is the major cause of AIDS in poor countries. Although condom use is quite effective, condoms are most successful in preventing infection if used consistently and correctly, which is often not the case.

New ways of stopping the spread of the HIV are vitally needed. The rate of new infections of HIV is outpacing the rate of new individuals getting anti-retroviral drugs by 2.5 to1, and at present it appears an effective vaccine is years away. Researcher David Marvovitz says, “HIV is still rampant in the US and the explosion in poorer countries continues to be a bad problem because of tremendous human suffering and the cost of treating it. That’s particularly true in developing countries where women have little control over sexual encounters so development of a long-lasting, self-applied microbicide is very attractive.” And some of the most promising compounds for inhibiting vaginal and rectal HIV transmission are agents that block the virus prior to integration into its target cell.

BanLec may even be BETTER than expensive drugs. Researcher Michael D. Swanson says, “The problem with some HIV drugs is that the virus can mutate and become resistant, but that’s much harder to do in the presence of lectins.”

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