Joining the crop of investigational anti-HIV agents that attack the virus before it can enter immune cells, a new potential microbicide element tricks HIV into expelling its DNA before latching onto a human cell, thus prompting a benign death. Publishing their findings in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, researchers at Drexel University engineered a molecule from segments of other molecules in order to create a dual action virolytic entry inhibitor, or DAVEI.

In order for HIV to infect a human immune cell, it must first fuse to the outside of the cell before inserting its genetic code. The scientists set out to create a molecule that would create a facsimile of this process. One segment of the molecule, known as the membrane proximal external region, is a portion of cellular fusion machinery and has a propensity to interact powerfully with the membranes of the virus. A second segment of the DAVEI is a cyanovirin, which connects to the sugar coating over the spikes on HIV’s surface that the virus uses to attach to human cells.

“For lack of a better term, DAVEI tricks the virus into thinking it is about to infect a healthy cell, when, in fact, there is nothing there for it to infect,” Cameron Abrams, PhD, a professor in Drexel’s College of Engineering and the study’s principal investigator, said in a statement. “Instead, it releases its genetic payload harmlessly and dies.”

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To read the study abstract, click here.