Soy sauce -- yes that condiment sitting right on top of the dining table -- may just hold the answer in treating HIV, thanks to its flavor-enhancing molecule EFdA that helps to stop the reproduction of the virus.
Yamasa, a Japanese company producing soy sauce, discovered the EFdA (4′-ethynyl-2-fluoro-2′-deoxyadenosine) in 2001, as it was on the verge of enhancing the taste of its soy sauce product, and recognized that the molecule was part of a group of compounds similar to the prevailing drugs used for HIV as well as other viruses.
Further testing of samples established Yamasa's initial findings of the potential usefulness of EFdA to fight off HIV, which eventually initiated an extensive research for over a decade to determine exactly why the molecule is so special. Study says EFdA becomes part of nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors or the NRTIs, which comprise eight more prevailing drugs for HIV. All these NRTIs seize the process of HIV spread by way of deceiving the reverse transcriptase enzyme.
"NRTIs are called chain terminators because they stop the copying of the DNA chain, and once incorporated it's like a dead end," Stefan Sarafianos, a virologist at the Bond Life Sciences Center (Bond LSC), says in the Center's blog.
Virologists at the Bond LSC are helping to conduct tests on the next generation of anti-AIDS treatment to control the resistance, lately proving in a study that EFdA indeed is 70 times more powerful against HIV that fights one of the most-used drugs on HIV called Tenovir.
Sarafianos' lab works hand in hand with Michael Parniak, a biochemist at the University of Pittsburg also with Hiroaki Mitsuya of the National Institutes of Health. Parniak spent years of evaluating treatments for HIV with the use of cultured white cells in the blood, while Mitsuya was among those who discovered the first three anti-HIV drugs.
The three researchers continue to discover EFdA's magic, and one is through a test in 2012 that showed the efficiency of the drug to cure the equivalent of HIV in monkeys.
The latest focus in the researchers' collaboration is prevention, which they considered the only possible way to bring about a huge difference in HIV.
"If we can prevent transmission, this approach could make a huge difference in minimizing the continued spread of the disease when combined with existing therapies for people already infected," Parniak says.
In fact they recruited Lisa Rohan, a formulation expert at the University of Pittsburgh. Based on the research, the group is on its way to putting the EFdA in a vaginal film that has a consistency comparable to the breath strips of Listerine. They want to know for how long the EFdA could stay in the cells and bloodstream.
"If we understand structurally why this drug is so potent it allows us to maybe develop additional molecules equally potent and a combination of those molecules could be a blockbuster," Parniak explains.
Their research was funded by National Institutes of Health and published by the Retrovirology, Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy journal in 2013 and by the International Journal of Pharmaceutics in 2014.