Thanks to work at NIST and Weill Cornell Medical College, viruses may soon be heading for a decoy cell instead of those naturally produced by a human body. Dubbed "honey pot" protocells, these attractive antivirals may just be the next big thing in the fight against disease.
Viruses are tricky to identify, quantify and eventually target and remove. Finding a way to treat a virus often means that the virus simply mutates and evolves into a form that not only works around the cure but is more deadly than ever. Recently, teams from NIST and Weill Cornell Medical College have been working on a way to build baited protocells that lure in viruses to strike instead of attacking normal human cells. Known as "honey pots" they contain an irresistible protein for prowling viruses, inducing them to attack.
Most of the team's work has been focused around henipavriuses including Nipah and Hendra which can both cause a fatal inflammation of the brain if not properly treated. By creating a protocell with a nanoporous silica core and wrapped in a lipid membrane just like its natural counterpart, the team was able to create a convincing duplicate cell for viruses to attack. Next they baited their cellular trap with ephrin-B2, a popular choice for a henipavirus.
The viruses have the ability to "harpoon" healthy cells, causing infection and the spawning of a new copy, but they can only use this ability once. In experiments performed by the team, the baited protocells were able to capture and neutralize almost all of the infected cells - with their silica core, no infection or reproduction is possible, meaning that every honey pot cell infected is one that has successfully accomplished its task.
By giving their test virus cells the ability to express a fluorescent protein upon infection, Weiss Cornell and NIST researchers were able to see just how many cells were successful in their task, as well as give clues to the actions of "envelope viruses" and the intricate dance between cell and invader.
While the protocells aren't going to get injected into willing patients tomorrow, there is hope that such targeted attacks - and going on the offensive against viruses - holds great potential for the future.
Seems sweet as honey to us.