New Research in Preventing HIV Infection



As Allison Fensterstock so effectively described in this week’s cover story “V to the Tenth,” the tenth anniversary celebration of V-Day is a global effort focused on ending violence against women. Although much of the violence against women does involve rape and other despicable acts, it doesn’t always occur in such an overt manner. Sometimes it can be a subtle as a lie about sexual history, or a man refusing to wear a condom. Outside of the rubber prophylactic, when it comes to heterosexual sex, a woman has little say or power over contracting HIV.

Thanks to research currently being conducted at Tulane University that could change.

New Orleans researchers are conducting tests on a drug that could prevent the transmission of the HIV virus in women. The scientists, part of the New Orleans Regional Biosciences Initiative (NORBI), are currently testing the medication, vaginal microbicides, at Tulane University’s National Primate Research Center.

During heterosexual intercourse with an HIV-carrier, the infection is transferred across the mucosal surfaces of the vagina, making women much more vulnerable than men for contracting the virus. The HIV-virus in turn infects receptors on a woman’s immune cells. The microbicides are referred to as fusion inhibitors because they bind to the immune cells’ receptors, blocking the HIV virus. The microbicides come in a gel form and are applied topically.

Dr. Ronald Veazey, a researcher at the Tulane center, says that the gel has proven effective in primate testing for preventing HIV infection, and they are focused on developing versions of the gel that can be used in human trials.

According to a NORBI press release, it is predicted that if 20 percent of women in the developing world used a microbicide in half of their sexual encounters, 2.5 million HIV infections could be prevented over a three-year period.

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