Loop-loaded nanosheets accelerate discovery of artificial antibodies
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.
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.