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Researchers at Stanford University found that genetically engineered bacteria might be used to help women protect themselves from the AIDS virus. The researchers focused on lactobacilli that naturally live in the vagina. Previous studies have found that women with low levels of lactobacilli may be more likely to contract the AIDS virus.
For the study, the researchers looked at whether the microbes could be made stronger to specifically fight HIV. Therefore, they gave the bacteria an extra boost by adding the gene for CD - 1 of the molecular doorways that HIV uses to get into cells. Peter Lee, MD, lead investigator for the study, said that if HIV latched onto CD4 on a lactobacillus before it reached a human cell, it might remain harmless. Then the bacteria might destroy the virus with naturally produced lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide.
According to results of the study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (September 12, 2003), tests on laboratory dishes full of cells showed that the genetically engineered bacteria lowered the rate of HIV infection in cells by at least 50%. Furthermore, early studies with monkeys showed that the engineered bacteria grew well and were safe. If successful, the bacteria could be developed into a vaginal suppository that women could use to protect themselves.