Year of selection 2015
Institution Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC)
“Know your enemy” is Dr. Lorenzo Albertazzi’s advice – age-old wisdom that serves him well in his hunt for new ways of fighting pandemics. Today’s weapons in the battle against deadly viruses, like influenza or Ebola, all suffer from the same problem. Whether faced with vaccines or drugs, viruses continuously mutate, changing themselves, and strains resistant to our tools always emerge. “Right now, each time a new virus appears, it’s a race against time,” says Dr. Albertazzi. This is what makes his approach fundamentally different; it is based on nanotechnology and could introduce a whole new class of tools to fight viruses.
His work is at the interface of biology and chemistry, and relies on novel materials his research team is creating. They are like tiny fibers, designed with little “handles” able to grab the surface of a virus. Once it is wrapped up in these wire-like, nano-scale filaments, the virus should no longer be able to infect a cell. Being a physical block of viral activity, this method would be less susceptible to the emergence of resistant strains that is the downfall of classic treatments. What’s more, Dr. Albertazzi’s new materials, called supramolecular polymers, behave in unique and promising ways. The fiber is dynamic, its individual units assembling themselves, coming apart and changing position continuously. He has shown that this behavior allows the polymers to adapt their structure to a particular target—even a mutating virus—enhancing their ability to lock onto it.
Knowing how these fibers are interacting with the surface of the virus will be a major part of Dr. Albertazzi’s research. For this, he will rely on super-resolution microscopy to observe them and aid in the rational design of the most efficient nanomaterials to do the job. Strategies to make them non-toxic for humans and invisible to our immune system are also an essential part of the project. At a time when new approaches are critical in the fight against pandemic infectious diseases, the promise of nanomedicine and of Dr. Albertazzi’s preliminary results suggest a bright future for his very special materials.
Scientific title: Novel approaches for Pandemic Virus Targeting Using Adaptive Polymers
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