May 26, 2004
"While studies have been done so far only in the laboratory, we believe this work opens up new possibilities for preventing the transmission of HIV through mothers' milk," said Lin Tao, associate professor of oral biology at the University of Illinois-Chicago's College of Dentistry. "Unlike standard retroviral drugs, which are too toxic for newborns, lactobacilli are 'friendly' bacteria already inhabiting the human digestive tract and milk products, and so should pose no danger to infants."
Giving the mother and baby antiretroviral drugs at birth can protect the infants, but they risk becoming infected later if they are breastfeeding. In some areas, an estimated 25 percent of babies born HIV-free are infected by breastfeeding. Up to 800,000 babies are infected with HIV each year worldwide.
Tao's team studied bacteria taken from volunteers. "The two strains were found to bind with several varieties of HIV, the related simian immunodeficiency virus, and immune cells that HIV targets for infection," Tao said. "Further analysis showed that the bacteria inhibited HIV infection of immune cells in the laboratory."