Women can grow life inside them and now according to a study published late last month we have the ability to fight STD infections. These two qualities alone make me believe women are practically superheroes. Researchers at the Monash Institute of Medical Research in Australia have discovered what they believe is an immune protein that is naturally occurring in women that has shown protection against certain sexually transmitted infections. The “marvel” protein called interferon-ε, improved symptoms of genital herpes and chlamydia in mice. So how exactly does this wonderful protein work? Well most interferons emerge whenever a pathogen is present and then disappear once the pathogen is destroyed, however interferon-ε is the exception. Interferon-ε has only been acknowledged since 2004 so its properties are still fairly novel. Paul Hertzog, the author of the published study, and his colleagues believe that interferon-ε is always present at some varying level of protection and is located in the reproductive tract. Researchers tested the levels of interferon-ε in women and found similar results to the mice in that the levels of cytokine altered with the menstrual cycle, with estrogen increasing its presence. In mice that had their ovaries removed, estrogen was administered and promoted the expression of interferon-ε.
Now to get to the interesting part, the herpes virus and chlamydia was exposed to genetically-altered mice that lacked interferon-ε. The results showed that mice with both diseases had more prominent signs and symptoms. For example, the herpes-exposed mice had more genital sores and the chlamydia-exposed mice had elevated visual signs of infection. The researchers believe that interferon-ε is involved in mucosal immunity and in the future be utilized as a treatment/prophylaxis of mucosal infections. Hertzog explained that this discovery “could potentially be used as a therapy to provide women with better protection against pathogens.” Further testing needs to be done but if this data is conclusive, the development of vaccinations for sexually transmitted diseases could be on the horizon. Ladies, until our superhero status is confirmed, it is still highly recommended to use protection and be tested regularly when engaging in sexual activity.