Can Drugs Made From Banana Protein Help Fight HIV And Hepatitis C?

By John Lavitt 11/23/15

Bananas may be more than just a source of potassium.

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A new research study has concluded that a protein found in bananas called banana lectin (BanLec) could help in the battle against both HIV and hepatitis C.

Scientists from the University of Michigan and Duke University worked together to develop the potential treatment and published their results in the journal Cell. The researchers showed how the BanLec protein clings to sugar molecules found on the surface of deadly viruses and helps render them harmless.

"What we've done is exciting because there is potential for BanLec to develop into a broad spectrum anti-viral agent—something that is not clinically available to physicians and patients right now," said Dr. David Markovitz, professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan and co-author of the paper.

The new potential drug has only been analyzed in the context of animal and lab tests. In the animal tests, BanLec helped to cure mice of a traditional flu virus that operates in the same way as HIV and hepatitis C. The drug has the potential to become an effective treatment for the most challenging viruses, and researchers believe the drug may even work on Ebola since that virus is covered in similar sugar molecules.

BanLec was first discovered five years ago and examined as a potential AIDS treatment. The initial problem was that preliminary applications led to a range of bad side effects. In the engineered version of the protein, the scientists have overcome this problem, creating a new type of BanLec that does not cause unwanted irritation and inflammation.

The researchers warn that eating regular bananas will not have the same beneficial effect. The BanLec ingredient is a modified version of the chemical found in the fruit. There also is a risk that the human immune system will recognize BanLec as a foreign invader and mount an immune response to it, potentially rendering the protein ineffective.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.