Virus trapping DNA shells

Virus traps
Image: Elena-Marie Willner / DietzLab / TUM

Scientists have been trying to find a way to beat viruses for a very long time. Although they have been successful in creating antiviral drugs and different vaccines, these sneaky organisms continue to evade treatment.

Instead of pharmaceutical treatment, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has created DNA nano-traps. These can physically capture the organisms and stop them from multiplying.

“Bacteria have a metabolism. We can attack them in different ways. Viruses, on the other hand, do not have their own metabolism, which is why antiviral drugs are almost always targeted against a specific enzyme in a single virus. Such a development takes time. If the idea of simply mechanically eliminating viruses can be realized, this would be widely applicable and thus an important breakthrough, especially for newly emerging viruses.”

– Prof. Ulrike Protzer, head of the Institute for Virology at TUM and Director of the Institute for Virology at the Helmholtz Zentrum München.

The technology was inspired by the discovery of the geometry of the virus’ protein shell in 1962. After recreating similar hollow bodies with the help of scientists from Brandeis University, USA, the team decided to see if they could use them to trap viruses.

They used a technique called DNA origami to build three-dimensional traps out of triangular plates. These enable the scientists to control the size and shape of these traps i.e. a full sphere, or half shell. They are also beveled on each side to facilitate assembly. Finally, they are treated with UV light and polyethylene glycol to prevent the body from degrading them.

But how do they catch a virus?

The traps are lined with proteins that can bind viruses. Testing their efficacy on hepatitis-B and adenoviruses, the team found that 5 sites per trap blocked 80% of the virus.

They now look forward to testing their traps on mouse models. The goal is to mass-produce these traps for worldwide use. According to Hendrik Dietz, Professor of Biomolecular Nanotechnology at the Physics Department of the Technical University of Munich, their technology may have other applications than just trapping viruses:

“It would also be conceivable to use it as a multivalent antigen carrier for vaccinations, as a DNA or RNA carrier for gene therapy or as a transport vehicle for drugs.”

Source: Technical University of Munich

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Dr. Shiza Khalid has a Bachelor’s degree in dentistry from Altamash Institute of Dental Medicine. While she enjoys clinical practice, she currently dedicates most of her time to research work, which is her main professional interest. During her free time, she can be found baking trays of brownies, reading, or lurking on the internet watching documentaries on world history and comparative religion.


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