- Cows can’t catch HIV but they can produce antibodies against the virus
- Scientists injected cows with HIV protein, and collected resulting antibodies from the milk
- They plan to create a cream for women to prevent HIV transmission
PUBLISHED:05:24 EST, 24 October 2012| UPDATED:05:48 EST, 24 October 2012
Cows cannot contract HIV but their immune systems develop antibodies against the foreign protein
Love it or hate it, cow’s milk is an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D. Now scientists think they can harness it to protect people from HIV.
Researchers found that cows could be used to produce antibodies that defend against the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The animals can’t contract the disease themselves.
The next step will be to develop it into a cream which women can apply to protect themselves from contracting HIV from sexual partners.
A team from Melbourne University worked with Australian biotechnology company Immuron Ltd to develop the milk.
The scientists, led by Dr Marti Kramski, vaccinated pregnant cows with an HIV protein and studied the first milk that cows produced after giving birth.
The first milk, called the colostrum, is naturally packed with antibodies to protect the newborn calf from infections. The vaccinated cows produced HIV antibodies in their milk.
‘We were able to harvest antibodies specific to the HIV surface protein from the milk,’ said Dr Kramski.
‘We have tested these antibodies and found in our laboratory experiments that they bind to HIV and that this inhibits the virus from infecting and entering human cells.’
The HIV-inhibiting antibodies from cows’ milk will be developed into a cream called a microbicide that is applied into the vagina before and/or after sex to protect women from contracting sexually transmitted infections.
Other microbicides are being developed around the world but the antibodies in this research are easier and cheaper to produce, providing a new HIV-prevention strategy.
‘We hope that our anti-HIV milk antibodies will provide a user-friendly, female-controlled, safe and effective tool for the prevention of sexually acquired HIV infection,’ Dr Kramski said.
‘If proven effective in humans, it will empower women to protect themselves against HIV.’
Marti Kramski, left, at the University of Melbourne with frozen milk containing HIV antibodies. Pictured with colleagues Behnaz Heydarchi, middle, and Rob Center
About 30 million people are living with HIV globally and there is presently no effective vaccine for humans.The research was supported by the Australian Centre for HIV and Hepatitis Virology Research and the NHMRC.
Dr Kramski and her colleagues are now developing plans for animal and human studies.
The work was being sponsored by Fresh Science, a national program sponsored by the Australian Government. It is published in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.