Medical

Loop-loaded nanosheets accelerate discovery of artificial antibodies

Loop-loaded nanosheets acceler...
Researchers at Berkeley Lab have designed a system (not pictured) that should accelerate the discovery of new artificial antibodies
Researchers at Berkeley Lab have designed a system (not pictured) that should accelerate the discovery of new artificial antibodies
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Researchers at Berkeley Lab have designed a system (not pictured) that should accelerate the discovery of new artificial antibodies
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Researchers at Berkeley Lab have designed a system (not pictured) that should accelerate the discovery of new artificial antibodies
A molecular model of the artificial antibody system. The nanosheet is shown in green, and the loopoids in purple. The larger structure looming over it is an anthrax protein
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A molecular model of the artificial antibody system. The nanosheet is shown in green, and the loopoids in purple. The larger structure looming over it is an anthrax protein

The body does a pretty good job of protecting itself from invading viruses and bacteria. Antibodies are one of the main lines of defense, but when a new threat emerges it takes time for the body to produce new antibodies to fight it. A new study led by Berkeley Lab has designed an effective system that should speed up discovery of new artificial antibodies.

Antibodies are proteins that have specialized tips that latch onto certain molecules in pathogens. When they do, they either flag the invader for destruction by other immune cells, or neutralize the pathogen directly by inhibiting a vital function. Each antibody is focused on one particular pathogen, and your body is teeming with different types of them, targeting all sorts of invaders.

Since they’re so effective, scientists often harvest antibodies from people who have fought off certain illnesses, or engineer them from scratch, to help strengthen the immune systems of patients currently afflicted with that disease. Unfortunately, that’s a difficult and costly process.

A more effective alternative may be artificial antibodies, and other nanoparticles that act in a similar way. In the new study, Berkeley Lab researchers managed to create a new system of screening artificial antibodies.

The system starts with a nanosheet made up of molecules called peptoids. This is then coated in loops of other peptoids, which the team calls “loopoids.” The nanosheet provides the supporting structure, while the loopoids are the active parts, latching onto molecules that may be present in different pathogens.

A molecular model of the artificial antibody system. The nanosheet is shown in green, and the loopoids in purple. The larger structure looming over it is an anthrax protein
A molecular model of the artificial antibody system. The nanosheet is shown in green, and the loopoids in purple. The larger structure looming over it is an anthrax protein

All of these loopoids can be tweaked into different shapes, to test how well they may attract these pathogen molecules. The team can then expose the system to a variety of molecules and check which ones stick. If they do, the structure of that loopoid provides a good starting point for an artificial antibody for that pathogen.

The team says that the system is efficient at capturing these antibody candidates thanks to the sheer number of loopoids on each nanosheet. In their tests, for example, they identified one that binds to and disrupts the anthrax pathogen.

“We can now readily build populations of rugged synthetic materials that can be engineered to recognize a potential pathogen,” says Ron Zuckermann, co-author of the study. “It is a shining example of biomimetic nanoscience.”

The system is apparently stable and inexpensive to produce, and the synthesis and screening can be automated to speed things up. Hopefully, it will accelerate the discovery of new treatments for a range of illnesses.

The study was published in the journal ACS Nano.

Sources: Berkeley Lab, Molecular Foundry

3 comments
piperTom
Assuming this technique can be scaled for wide spread use, we see an end to the era when we had to fear pathogens evolving resistance to antibiotics.
Kpar
Interesting. But does this process encourage the body to replicate this on its own? The body makes up antigens to protect itself and produces enough to meet the threat- assuming that there are not already too many viruses present in the body to fight (that is why we get sick in the first place). If this process does not cause the immune system to make more of these, then the inoculation must be strong enough to overcome the invading pathogen all on its own.
itsmeagain
Will the body's own immune system see these loops as foreign and create antibodies against them?