THURSDAY, July 2 (HealthDay News) -- In developing countries where breast-feeding is a necessity, and HIV is rampant, the risk of disease transmission through breast milk might be reduced if infants were first fed a freeze-dried formula full of good bacteria that could capture and potentially destroy the deadly virus.
But that hope is theoretical, because the formula hasn't been tested in humans. However, researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago report that they are one giant step closer to that reality, because they have designed a method that allows the good bacteria to remain active, even without refrigeration.
"The one major challenge for infant products going to Africa or other poor regions is that they don't have refrigeration, so anything you send has to be heat-resistant," explained one of the researchers, Lin Tao, an associate professor in the department of oral biology at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Tao presented the findings Thursday at the International Association for Dental Research annual meeting, in Toronto.
Lactobacillus is a bacterium normally found in the mouth. It's one of the good bacteria found in some dairy products, such as yogurt or kefir. Surprisingly, this common bacteria has the ability to "capture" the HIV virus.
"HIV, though quite deadly as a disease, as a virus is relatively weak, so it's not surprising to find out that lactobacillus can act against HIV and maybe prevent its incorporation into mammalian cells," said Dr. Marc Siegel, an associate professor at the New York University School of Medicine and the author of False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear.
Tao and his colleague, Dr. R. Chang from Lavax, of Palatine, Ill., developed the new freeze-drying method for maintaining lactobacilli in a hot environment, and in the current study, they tested the new method at different temperatures to ensure that the lactobacilli remained viable.
Now that they've shown a method for keeping the bacteria alive in heat, the researchers have to decide the most effective product to use. Infant formula is an obvious candidate, or possibly a type of lollipop that an infant could suck on, Tao said.
Once the lactobacilli are ingested, the bacteria will colonize the infants' GI tract, and as long as they are fed milk, the bacteria will remain alive and able to capture HIV, said Tao.
"This study provides hope for the prevention of HIV. So far, all of the AIDS vaccines have failed in clinical trials, but this shows that there are alternatives. There are ways to conquer this virus," said Tao, who said the next step is to secure additional funding for further research.
"The notion of using probiotics to protect infants against HIV-positive breast milk is a novel, promising and interesting notion that bears further study," said Siegel.
To learn more about HIV infection in babies and children, visit the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
SOURCES: Lin Tao, D.D.S., Ph.D., associate professor, department of oral biology, University of Illinois at Chicago; Marc Siegel, M.D., internist and associate professor, New York University Langone Medical Center and School of Medicine, and author, False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear; July 3, 2008, International Association for Dental Research annual meeting, Toronto