A new vaginal gel has the potential to protect women from HIV. Animal research suggests that protection is possible if the gel is applied several hours after sex.
In a study published in Science Transitional Medicine, researchers discovered this vaginal gel reduces the rate of HIV transmission among monkeys, when applied up to three hours after sex. Researchers believe the gel could also be effective for humans.
HealthDay News reported that researchers first tested the gel's effectiveness pre-contact, by applying it to three monkeys who were exposed to HIV twice a week for seven weeks. By the end, two of the three remained HIV-free.
Researchers then tested protection using six monkeys exposed to a hybrid simian/human AIDS virus twice a week for two and a half months when used three hours after exposure to HIV.
Delaware Online wrote that the antimicrobial vaginal gel protected five of the six monkeys, according to Dr. Walid Heneine, lead author and researcher for HIV/AIDS prevention for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The gel contains a one-percent solution of the anti-HIV drug raltegravir. It works by blocking the ability of the virus to integrate its DNA into the DNA of animal cells.
This is critical because DNA integration is a crucial step in HIV infection. However it comes late in the infection process, typically more than six hours after exposure, the researchers found.
By focusing on preventive treatment on that specific step, it provides an hours-long window when people can take steps to protect themselves after exposure to HIV. Researchers said that once the gel is applied, the HIV cannot transmit its DNA into cells.
Dr. Heneine told New York Times it was not clear why two monkeys in the two parts of the trial were infected. “We puzzled about those two, but we could never pinpoint an explanation.”
Despite the fact that success in monkey studies does not always translate into success in humans -- and this research will not occur in humans in the immediate future -- these study results are a positive sign when it comes to HIV-prevention research.