Nanotechnology Could Fight Influenza, Other Viruses
Newly emerging flu viruses could soon be countered by a treatment that Draper Laboratory is developing that “traps” viruses before they can infect host cells. Further into the future, patients suffering from any type of virus could be cured with DRACO, a drug also under development at Draper that is designed to rapidly recognize and eliminate cells infected by virtually any virus. Both methods could help safeguard against bioterrorist attacks and naturally occurring pandemics in a manner that is unlikely to lead to treatment-resistant strains. Initial testing on the treatments, which each use tiny, non-toxic particles that can be injected, inhaled, or eaten, has shown them to be effective and safe against a multitude of strains of disease Nanotraps, which could be taken at the first sign of infection or exposure, is likely the first of the products ready for use, and is expected to begin clinical trials in two to five years, according to Jim Comolli, who leads the research on the effort at Draper. Nanotraps, developed by a team of researchers from Draper, MIT, the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and the University of Santa Barbara, are nanoparticles that act as viral “traps” using specific molecules found naturally within the human body. The nanotraps look like the surface of a cell, with numerous carbohydrate molecules attached that closely resemble those targeted by flu viruses in the human respiratory system. These molecules, initially characterized in the Sasisekharan Lab at MIT, act as bait for the flu virus, which bind to the nanotrap instead of a host cell and are cleared away with mucus, preventing infection, Comolli said.