Scientists have recently rediscovered a compound that may block the transmission of HIV during sexual contact. The compound, glycerol monolaurate (GML), has been used in foods and cosmetics as an antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory agent. One of the mechanisms by which HIV causes infection is by using the body’s natural immune defenses against itself. Therefore, to counteract this mechanism, it is believed that an agent needs to prevent or alter the immune response to HIV. GML has already been used to block infections and affect certain molecules in the immune response.
The agent has been tested on monkeys via a vaginal preparation and has been shown to be effective in preventing the transmission of SIV (the primate version of HIV). Scientists hope to do further research before developing a similar agent for human trials. GML is very cheap and common and easily prepared as a vaginal agent. Scientists are hailing this as a significant step for fighting HIV infection, but warn that other measures (such as condom use) will still need to be in force until GML is developed. They also believe that GML will help block transmission of other sexually-transmitted diseases.
It would be prudent, in my opinion, to continue use of other protection as having more than one agent to prevent infection is better than one. If one fails, there is still back-up. I also wonder how they could possibly run a human trial for this agent. It is one thing to do a trial with HIV patients to test the effectiveness of a new drug. It is another to do a trial to test whether HIV can be transmitted. It would be unethical to potentially infect someone with HIV or any other sexually-transmitted disease. They may test GML in vitro, but they cannot conclude its effectiveness in vivo, unless they have human subjects. So, how will they design this test?