Viral infections can be difficult to tackle due to their ability to rapidly develop resistance to drugs, and major viruses like Ebola and Zika pose a real threat to global health. Help might well be at hand though, with researchers from the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore, working alongside scientists from IBM Research, developing a breakthrough macromolecule that tackles viruses in three separate ways.
The researchers worked together to create a large, polymer-based molecule with several different features, known as a macromolecule. Its specialized features allow it to fight viral infection and the development of drug resistance.
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Firstly, the macromolecule contains a component designed to attract viruses, electrostatically bonding to proteins on their surface. Individual macromolecules attract and capture virus cells, at which point their ability to infect healthy cells is neutralized.
They also feature mannose – a type of sugar – that binds to healthy immune cells, stopping viruses from being able to infect them. Lastly, the molecules incorporate components that neutralize viral cell pH levels, making it difficult for them to replicate.
The macromolecule was tested on a range of viruses, including Ebola, influenza, Marburg and Enterovirus 71. In early results, the viruses have shown no sign of developing resistance.
In the short term, the researchers see the macromolecules making their way into anti-viral wipes or detergents. In the long-term, the breakthrough could lead to new vaccinations that are able to prevent entire categories of viral infection.
"We have created an anti-viral macromolecule that can tackle wily viruses by blocking the virus from infecting the cells, regardless of mutations," said Dr Yi Yan Yang of the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, Singapore. "It is not toxic to healthy cells and is safe for use."
Full details of the breakthrough macromolecule are available online in the journal Macromolecules.