A new method to fight COVID-19 using cellular nanosponges

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the entire world to a standstill. Researchers and scientists worldwide are racing against time to develop vaccines and treatments for the disease.

The Liangfang Zhang research group from the University of California San Diego, in collaboration with the Anthony Griffiths research group from Boston University School of Medicine, has demonstrated a unique approach to prevent SARS-Cov-2 from infecting human cells. They have developed two types of nanosponges that act as cellular decoys and bind to SARS-CoV-2 before it can enter human cells. Their findings are reported in Nanoletters.

Nanosponges as decoys

The nanosponges consist of polymeric nanoparticles covered with membranes from human lung epithelial cells and macrophages; the two human cell types the virus is known to invade. Since the surface contains the same receptors and proteins that the virus usually binds to, it acts as a decoy for the human cells and offers alternative binding sites for the virus. The key is to create a barrier with these nanosponges to soak up the virus and prevent it from replicating and infecting the actual human cells.

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Effectiveness against Coronaviruses

Preliminary safety tests of both types of sponges conducted in mouse models showed that a 3-day exposure did not affect the lung tissues. Also, the blood platelets, red and white blood cell counts were not negatively impacted by these nanosponges. Subsequent efficacy tests were conducted in vitro by exposing the virus to monkey cell cultures in the presence of nanosponges. Both types of nanosponge reduced the effectiveness of the SARS-CoV-2 in proportion to the dosage. The best results were at a 90% reduction when compared to untreated cultures.

Researcher Anna Honko conducts tests on the nanosponges. | Image: the Griffiths lab at Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories

According to the senior author Liangfang Zhang, the unique advantage of these nanosponges is that they are relatively easy to fabricate and are insensitive to viral mutations. Not just SARS-CoV-2, these sponges can be effective in preventing other coronavirus infections as well.

This is a unique solution in the fight against COVID-19. The researchers are now focusing on animal trials. If the outcomes are positive, then they will advance with human clinical trials.

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Source: Physicsworld

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