Meet Interferon epsilon (or IFNe).
IFNe is a naturally occurring protein in women that protects them from Chlamydia and Herpes Simplex and may protect them from HIV and HPV. This protein was discovered by Dr. Paul Hertzog, Director of the Monash Institute of Medical Research Centre for Innate Immunity and Infectious Diseases and his team.
When is IFNe produced?
IFNe is produced during a woman’s hormone cycle and Professor Hertzog says that the protein is produced differently than others:
“Most proteins protecting us against infection are produced only after we’re exposed to a virus or bacteria,” Professor Hertzog says. “But this protein is produced normally and is instead regulated by hormones so its levels change during the oestrous cycle (an animal’s menstrual cycle) and is switched off at implantation in pregnancy and at other times like menopause.” (source)
What’s next for IFNe?
Dr. Hertzog’s plan is to future his teams’ research in hopes to use IFNe as a possible cure for STDs. He also wants to see if his research on IFNe can be applied to finding ways to prevent other diseases.
What does this mean if you’re sexually active?
Dr. Hertzog and his team continue to conduct research on IFNe, so don’t get too excited with this knowledge. Sexually transmitted diseases affect 450 million people worldwide and cost the United States nearly $17 billion dollars in treatment each year (source). For women who know their body produces this hormone, this isn’t an invitation to practice unsafe sex.
Keep using safe sex practices and continue to get tested periodically if you’ve had multiple sexual partners. The day may come when IFNe becomes a way to prevent STDs for everyone, but that day is a long way off.
We hope Dr. Hertzog and his team are onto something great that curtails the rapid spread of STDs.