Over the last decade, advances in nanotechnology have resulted in scientists creating amazingly specific nanoparticles that can travel through a human body and home in on specific cells. The latest nanoparticle innovation, driven by advanced computer modeling technologies, targets a broad range of devastating viruses and not only binds to them, but destroys them as well.

The first stage of attack for many viruses involves binding to a protein on the surface of cells called heparin sulfate proteoglycan (HSPG). Some existing antiviral drugs prevent infection by mimicking that HSPG bind to prevent the virus from bonding with the cells. A major limitation of these antiviral drugs is that this antiviral bond is not only weak, but it doesn't destroy the virus.

This new study from an international team of researchers set out to design a new anti-viral nanoparticle that could use this HSPG binding process to not only tightly bond with virus particles, but also destroy them. The work was carried out by a variety of researchers, from biochemists to experts in computer modeling, until the team developed an effective nanoparticle design that could, in theory, precisely target and kill specific virus particles.

"We knew the general composition of the HSPG-binding viral domains the nanoparticles should bind to, and the structures of the nanoparticles, but we did not understand why different nanoparticles behave so differently in terms of both binding strength and preventing viral entry into cells," says Petr Kral, one of the researchers on the project.

After developing a prototype nanoparticle design the team conducted several in vitro experiments that showed it was successful in binding to, and ultimately destroying, a broad spectrum of viruses, including herpes simplex virus, human papillomavirus, respiratory syncytial virus and Dengue and Lentiviruses.

The research is still in its early stages with more in vivo animal testing needed to verify the safety of the nanoparticles, but this is a promising new pathway towards effective antiviral treatments that could save millions of people a year from fatal viral infections.

The study was published in the journal Nature Materials.