Newly emerging flu viruses could soon be countered by a treatment that Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, an independent, not-for-profit research and development corporation linked to MIT 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.
The research team has demonstrated in the laboratory that the nanotraps effectively countered multiple influenza strains able to infect humans and went on to show nanotraps protected mice infected with the flu. They have also developed additional particles geared toward other types of respiratory viruses.
Nanotraps, unlike most vaccines, are not strain specific and are designed to be effective against newly emerging strains of human-adapted influenza virus. Since nanotraps mimic a fundamental step in the viral life cycle – the binding of the virus to a host cell’s receptor – nanotraps may offer an opportunity to treat devastating infectious diseases without causing the development of treatment resistance.
In Figure 1, influenza viruses bind to specific carbohydrate structures on the surface of airway cells to gain entry.
In Figure 2, nanotrap particles effectively mimic the cell surface so that their carbohydrate structures “trap” viruses and prevent infection
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.