Brain and Body

IBM Developed a Molecule That Uses a Triple-Attack Technique to Fight Off Viruses

May 23, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

ebola virus
Photo credit: Frederick Murphy, USCDCP (CC0)

Bad news for Ebola and Zika.

Viruses like Ebola and Zika can be tough to defeat since they can mutate into different strains within the virus and develop resistance to drugs.

However, scientists from IBM Research have been working with researchers from the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore, and claim they’ve developed a molecule that can tackle a wide range of viruses in a three-step attack.

“Viral diseases continue to be one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality,” Dr. Yi Yan Yang, of the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, said in an IBM news release . “We have created an anti-viral macromolecule that can tackle wily viruses by blocking the virus from infecting the cells, regardless of mutations.”

“It is not toxic to healthy cells and is safe for use,” he adds.

To design the macromolecule, which is a large molecule made up of smaller units, the researchers looked at the common characteristics of viruses that could provide insights into how to fight them off. The molecule is still in its early days, but it could be paving the way to new drugs that aren’t duped by mutating virus strains.

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Instead of looking at the RNA and DNA of the viruses used in testing, the team looked at glycoproteins — big molecules attached to the outside of all viruses that are capable of latching onto cells in the body. This is the process that makes us sick.

The IBM-developed macromolecule works by, first, attracting viruses, and then latching onto the glycoproteins, effectively neutralizing their acidity levels and lowering their ability to replicate. Additionally, the molecules feature a type of sugar, called mannose, which binds to healthy immune cells and prevents viruses from being able to infect them.

The researchers say that a short-term potential for the molecules could be harnessing their virus-fighting abilities for antiviral wipes or detergents. They explain that only a small amount of the macromolecule dispersed in water could potentially neutralize an entire room infected with, say, Ebola.

With further research, the scientists envision that a longer-term application could stem from the development of a new vaccine, which could protect us against a whole range of viral infections.

“With the recent outbreak of viruses such as Zika and Ebola, achieving anti-viral breakthroughs becomes even more important,” lead researcher Dr. James Hedrick, expert in advanced organic materials, said in the release. “We are excited about the possibilities that this novel approach represents, and are looking to collaborate with universities and other organizations to identify new applications.”

Full details on the research can be found in the journal Macromolecules.

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