Friday, September 16, 2005

Eminent Professor to speak on how lemons could fight the spread of HIV 

The 2005 Doubleday Lecture at The University of Manchester, entitled "New ways of preventing HIV infection in developing countries," will be given by Professor Roger Short of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Royal Women's Hospital, University of Melbourne on 21 September.

Professor Short spent a year working as a consultant to the World Health Organisations Global Programme on AIDS, where he helped design strategies to integrate HIV prevention with family planning programmes. His current research looks at the way male circumcision protects against HIV infection, as well as new ways of preventing the sexual transmission of HIV in men and women.

The HIV pandemic becomes more serious each day, especially in the developing world, and globally there are 5 million new infections and 3 million deaths a year. Sub-Saharan Africa remains the epicentre of the condition, and the best hope for containing it is to find ways of preventing its spread in young people there - especially women who are becoming infected at a much higher rate than men.

Professor Short will discuss five new approaches including his 'LemonAIDS' project, which has found that the juice of the lemon can kill HIV in a test tube and prompted hopes that an 'anti-HIV' vaginal gel could be developed. With social circumstances often forcing young women in Africa to have sex with older, infected men and making it difficult for them to insist on condom use, scientists have long searched for a readily available, cheap and safe 'microbicide' to kill HIV in the vagina before it has a chance to infect them.

Parts of Southeast Asia have traditionally used lemon or lime juice as a contraceptive, the acidity of the juice immobilising sperm in less than 30 seconds. Professor Short's team has tested various solutions of the juice on HIV in culture and found that a 20% solution destroyed 90 per cent of the virus within just two minutes.

Other sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia are also known to be killed by certain levels of acidity, meaning lemon or lime juice could also protect women against these infections. Since around only 3 millilitres of juice (a teaspoonful) is needed per act of intercourse, one lemon goes a long way - and the juice doesn't damage latex condoms.

Laboratory research in Melbourne is almost complete, and human trials are soon to get underway in Thailand. By the time of the next World AIDS Conference in 2006 the team hopes to know whether lemons and limes will prove to be both nature's contraceptive and microbicide, and Professor Short is clearly hopeful, saying, "We've been looking for the microbicidal Cadillac, when all along we've been overlooking the humble push bike."

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