Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne have developed gold nanoparticles that have the property of attracting viruses to them in order to destroy them. Completely new, this approach could, like broad-spectrum antibiotics, destroy several types of viruses such as HIV, dengue, herpes or Ebola, which kill millions of people around the world.
Ae HIV, dengue fever, HPV, herpes or Ebola. The list of viruses is long and they kill millions of people every year, the majority of them children in developing countries. While there are drugs to treat some of them, there is no treatment that could be used against many viruses, comparable to broad-spectrum antibiotics against bacteria. Researchers at the Laboratory for Supramolecular Nanomaterials and Interfaces - Constellium Chair (SUNMIL) at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology have succeeded in transforming gold nanoparticles that could open the door to such new treatments. Injected into the body, they "trick" viruses by imitating human cells. When viruses bind to them to infect them, the nanoparticles use the local pressure produced by this assembly to "break" the viruses, causing them to lose their toxicity. These results are presented in the scientific journal Nature Materials.
Urgent need for broad spectrum treatment
" There are medications for certain viruses, such as HIV or hepatitis C, which fortunately work. "says Francesco Stellacci, head of SUNMIL at the Faculty of Engineering Sciences and Techniques. « But they remain specific to a single virus ». The development of broad-spectrum antivirals therefore remains largely necessary. On the one hand, this would provide a single response to combat all viruses for which there is no treatment, and which continue to kill. On the other hand, some countries, such as developing regions, do not necessarily have the tools to make accurate diagnoses and therefore need non-specific treatments. This would also help to curb the resistance that humans create to antibiotics. « Doctors often prescribe these treatments for viral infections, since there is no medication available. But antibiotics are only effective against bacteria. This overuse contributes to the development of virus mutations and resistance in humans, emphasizes the professor.
Until now, research into broad-spectrum treatments against viruses has only led to solutions that are toxic to humans, or effective in vitro (in the laboratory) but not in vivo. The approach developed by scientists has circumvented these two obstacles. They have created gold nanoparticles, a material that is non-toxic to humans, which mimic the receptors in human cells, the specific elements to which viruses attach themselves. To infect us, viruses need our cells, which they penetrate and use to replicate and spread. Fooled, viruses bind to nanoparticles, thinking they are invading a human cell. This attachment mechanism causes pressure that deforms the virus and opens it up, rendering it harmless. This pressure offers a non-toxic solution, unlike the current alternatives. « Because viruses use our cells to spread, it is very difficult to find a chemical that destroys the virus without damaging human cells.explains Francesco Stellacci. But at the same time, only this approach could irreversibly destroy the virus... ». The mechanism of action developed by SUNMIL would now make it possible to achieve this result, a unique situation to date.
Conclusive experiments were conducted in vitro on tissues infected with herpes simplex virus, papillomavirus (which can lead to uterine cancer), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV, which can lead to pneumonia), dengue fever and HIV (lentivirus). Other tests have cured mice with RSV. These results were obtained thanks to SUNMIL's collaboration with various universities and the pooling of expertise in nanomaterials and virology.