25 Sep 2013

Scientists move closer to eradicating HIV

2:50 pm on 25 September 2013

A professor of chemistry and systems biology at Stanford University in the United States says his team is getting closer to eradicating HIV, thanks to compounds in a type of Samoan tree.

Paul Wender says the initial discovery of the prostratin molecule in mamala tree bark was made in the 1970s.

He says a decade later an ethnobotanist from the United States spending time with Samoan healers noticed that people with what appears to have been hepatitis got better from drinking a tea made from the bark.

Professor Wender says subsequent screening found prostratin to be capable of activitating latent HIV virus.

"And so that goes back to the early 90s which is when our research more or less got started as well because when we heard of this we got very interested in - as is typical with research of our type - thinking about whether we might be able to use nature's lead but get to an even better end point in terms of the activity, the biological activity."

Paul Wender says even if his team only finds a way to reduce the amount of latent virus in people living with HIV they will still be better off.