Among the many biotechnology and life science advances reported in last week’s news, the development of nanoparticles with broad spectrum anti-viral effects (see below) deserves a special mention.
The nanoparticles “trick” the viruses into thinking that they are invading a human cell. When a virus binds to the nanoparticles, the resulting pressure deforms the virus and breaks it, rendering it harmless. Unlike other treatments, the use of pressure is non-toxic.
“Viruses replicate within cells, and it is very difficult to find a chemical substance that attacks viruses without harming the host cells,” said an EPFL researcher. “But until now, that’s been the only known approach attempted to permanently damage viruses.” The new method is unique in that it achieves permanent damage to the viral integrity without damaging living cells.
The team’s final “draft” of the anti-viral nanoparticle could bind irreversibly to a range of viruses, and caused lethal deformations to the viruses, but had no effect on healthy tissues or cells. “We were able to provide the data needed to the design team so that they could develop a prototype of what we hope will be a very effective and safe broad-spectrum anti-viral that can be used to save lives,” said a UI Chicago researcher.
Designer gold nanoparticles destroy viruses. An international group of researchers including EPFL and UI Chicago chemists have designed new anti-viral gold nanoparticles that bind to a range of viruses, including herpes simplex virus, human papillomavirus, respiratory syncytial virus and Dengue and Lentiviruses. The team’s findings are reported in Nature Materials. Unlike other broad-spectrum antivirals, which simply prevent viruses from infecting cells, the new nanoparticles destroy viruses.
Programmable DNA engineering for precise molecular control. Scientists at UT Austin have built a chemical oscillator that uses DNA components. A research paper published in Science describes a method that has the potential to embed sophisticated circuit computation within molecular systems designed for applications in health care, advanced materials and nanotechnology. DNA molecules that follow specific instructions could offer more precise molecular control of synthetic chemical systems, a discovery that opens the door for engineers to create molecular machines with new and complex behaviors.
CRISPR protects mice from genetic hearing loss. Researchers at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute have used CRISPR gene editing to treat hearing loss in mice with genetic deafness. A study published in Nature describes how, using molecular scissors wrapped in a greasy delivery package, researchers have disrupted a gene variant that leads to deafness in mice. According to the scientists, the research could one day help scientists treat certain forms of genetic hearing loss in humans.
Molecular printing for tissue engineering and drug design. Scientists at Queen Mary University have developed a simple and inexpensive molecular printing technology, dubbed “3DEAL,” able to generate complex molecular patterns within soft matter, such as hydrogels, with microscale resolution and up to centimeters in depth. The research results, published in Advanced Functional Materials, represent an advance toward recreating complex biological environments that could be used for tissue engineering and drug design.
Arthritis drug effective in combined skin cancer treatments. Researchers at University of East Anglia have found that treatment for skin cancer could be more effective if combined with leflunomide, a well-known immunosuppressive drug for rheumatoid arthritis. New research results published in Oncotarget show that using leflunomide, in combination with melanoma drug selumetinib, almost completely stopped the growth of a melanoma tumor in mice.
Nanotube fibers for brain monitoring and interfacing. Scientists at Rice University have invented a device that uses fast-moving fluids to insert flexible, conductive carbon nanotube fibers into the brain, where they can help record the actions of neurons. A study published in Nano Letters shows that, according to the researchers, the new technique promises to improve therapies that rely on electrodes to sense neuronal signals and trigger actions in patients with epilepsy and other conditions. Eventually, nanotube-based electrodes could permit unveiling the mechanisms behind cognitive processes, and create direct interfaces to the brain that will allow patients to see, to hear, or to control artificial limbs.
Machine-learning algorithm could accelerate drug discovery. Researchers at the University of Warwick have developed a new high precision machine-learning algorithm that could significantly accelerate drug discovery. A study published in Science Advances shows that the method can accurately predict the interactions between a protein and a drug molecule based on a handful of reference experiments or simulations. Using just a few training references, the algorithm can predict whether or not a candidate drug molecule will bind to a target protein with 99 percent accuracy. The method, which combines local information from the neighborhood of each atom in a structure, is also applicable to chemical, materials science, and biochemical problems.