Are the technologies developed in semiconductors transposable to medicine? This is what IBM Research, associated for the occasion with a bio and nano technology institute in Singapore, is trying to prove. Their work has just been published in a scientific journal. The researchers claim to have created a macromolecule capable of eradicating all viruses, from influenza to Ebola and other vectors of viral diseases.
James Hedrick, an organic materials researcher for IBM Research, tells the magazine Forbes how his team, in partnership with the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) in Singapore, achieved a major scientific breakthrough that could help fight viral infections. Their work was recently published in the scientific journal Macromolecules.
Large, devastating viruses such as Ebola or Dengue fever often escape vaccination and treatment because of their ability to change shape. The strains of these viral infections mutate rapidly so that they are not only resistant to treatment, but also prevent effective control of their spread.
Scientists claim to have designed a macromolecule capable of attacking all kinds of viruses with a unique triple-action biological weapon. Unlike most virology researchers, they did not focus on studying the DNA or RNA of viruses; instead, they looked at what did not change when a virus mutated. And instead of working inside the virus, they attack the outside of the virus.
Researchers have thus become interested in the glycoproteins that surround viruses. These glycoproteins form a substance that can be compared to honey, which sticks the virus to healthy cells and makes them sick. Interviewed by the magazine Fast Company...the researchers say: " Whatever the virus and how it mutates, it will have these substances on its surface; they have electrical charges (some positive, some negative) to which chemicals can stick. ".
It is through this feature that IBM and IBN researchers plan to trap the virus. The macromolecule they have created uses these electrostatic bonds to attach itself to the virus via a polymer, thereby removing its ability to infect healthy cells. The researchers call this polymer the magic bullet "(magic bullet). Once the virus is attached to the macromolecule, the macromolecule neutralizes the acidity levels of the virus cells. By controlling the acidity, the macromolecule blocks any possibility of replication of the virus, so that it can no longer spread. Finally, the macromolecule has a third shock weapon. It delivers a very special sugar, mannose, which sticks to healthy cells in the immune system and has the function of preventing infection.
This macromolecule, a real weapon of war against viruses, has been tested in the laboratory on a wide range of viruses such as influenza, Ebola and herpes. Research has not yet focused on Zika, but it will soon. Initial results show that the viruses have no resistance to this type of attack, showing that they have no time to mutate.
Researchers know that the use of the macromolecule in the human body will require several years of clinical trials. But they are thinking of more immediate applications by introducing their molecule into soap or detergent. According to them, adding a few drops of the substance containing their macromolecule to water would be enough to instantly clean a room infected with the Ebola virus, for example. They also believe that the applications could eventually lead to a new mode of vaccination against a whole range of viral infections.
Dr. Yi Yan Yang, Director of the research team at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore comments on this promising discovery: "This is a very promising discovery. We have created an antiviral macromolecule that can fight viruses, preventing them from infecting cells, regardless of their mutations. This macromolecule is non-toxic to healthy cells and safe to use. This promising research represents twelve years of hard work and collaboration by a global community of researchers. ".
For its part IBM esteems that this discovery is a first proof that the combination of medical research with IBM Watson's computing prowess will significantly accelerate the discovery of new treatments and drugs against the most dangerous diseases.
" With the recent outbreak of viruses such as Zika and Ebola, making antiviral breakthroughs becomes even more important. "said Dr. James Hedrick, Senior Advanced Organics Researcher at IBM Research . He added : "We are excited about the possibilities that this new approach represents, and are therefore looking for collaboration with universities and other organizations to identify new applications. "