Scientists from Germany and the United States have proposed a new approach to fight viruses. They created nano cells based on genetic material that traps and absorbs viruses. The authors believe that the method they developed will also work against the new SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. The results of the study are published in the journal Nature Materials.

To date, there are no effective antiviral drugs for most dangerous viruses. Researchers from the Technical University of Munich, the Helmholtz Center in Munich, and the Brandeis University in the United States have proposed a new strategy for the treatment of acute viral infections. The authors have developed nanostructures consisting of DNA that can mechanically capture and neutralize viruses.

In 1962, biologist Donald Caspar and biophysicist Aaron Klug discovered the geometric principles according to which the protein shells of viruses are built. Based on these characteristics, scientists from the Technical University of Munich (TUM), led by Professor of Biomolecular Nanotechnology at the Faculty of Physics Hendrik Dietz, have developed a method for creating self-assembled objects the size of a virus from DNA.

The researchers suggested that if such nanotelos are made hollow and covered from the inside with virus-binding molecules, they can be used as virus traps. But the problem was that scientists at that time could not create hollow bodies of such a size that a virus could pass through their hole.

“None of the objects that we created using DNA origami technology at that time could have covered an entire virus — they were simply too small. Creating stable hollow bodies of this size was a huge problem,” the head of the study, Professor Hendrik Dietz, is quoted in a press release from the Technical University of Munich.

The authors decided to build hollow bodies for virus traps from three-dimensional triangular plates assembled in the form of an icosahedron-an object consisting of twenty triangular surfaces. For the DNA plates to assemble into larger geometric structures, their edges were made slightly beveled, and a certain location of the anchor points on the edges of the plates guaranteed self-assembly.

By changing the anchor points on the edges of the triangles, scientists were able to create not only closed hollow spheres but also spheres with holes or semi-shells, which are especially convenient to use as traps for viruses.

“Using the exact shape of the triangular plates, we can now program the shape and size of the desired objects and produce objects containing up to 180 subunits. However, the path to this was quite difficult, with many iterations,” says Hendrik Dietz.

The new method has already been tested at the TUM Institute of Virology and the Helmholtz Center in Munich against hepatitis B and adenoviruses. The results showed that viruses in cell cultures are reliably blocked.

“Even a simple half-shell of a suitable size shows a noticeable decrease in the activity of the virus,” the scientist notes. — If we put five virus binding sites inside, for example, suitable antibodies, we can already block the virus by 80 percent. If we include more sites, we will achieve complete blocking.” At the next stages of the study, the authors plan to test their development first in mice, and then in humans.