'Decoy' cells attract, disarm viruses before infection occurs

August 22, 2000

Tiny molecules act like 'flypaper'

WASHINGTON, Aug. 22 -- Decoy cells that act like "molecular flypaper" can attract and disarm viruses that cause disease, researchers reported today at the 220th national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.

The fake cells or "nanodecoys" bind to viruses with sialic acid receptors. Sialic acid is the virus-binding target found on the surface of most cells, explains Roseita Esfand, Ph.D., a research fellow at the Center for Biologic Technology at the University of Michigan. The nanodecoys bind the viruses, making them unable to infect actual cells.

Nanodecoys could be deployed inside the body as a drug or used on mucosal surfaces to defend against biological warfare agents, Esfand says.

The decoy approach combats the virus before infection occurs, says Donald Tomalia, Ph.D., scientific director of the Center for Biologic Technology, giving it a theoretical advantage over other treatments that are administered after the virus enters cells.

A barrier in nanodecoy design has been finding a non-toxic polymer to which the sialic acid receptors could be attached. Tomalia's research group is using dendritic polymers -- large, branched molecules. They vary in size from generation to generation, which affects the activity of the decoy. With each generation, a growth layer is added and the amount of branching increases.

The nanodecoys successfully inhibited one influenza virus from infecting cells in laboratory testing, according to Esfand. They are now being tested in mice.

"We hope that in the near future we will be able to use this strategy for more complex systems," Esfand says. "Instead of targeting the virus, we will be targeting cell specific receptors as a strategy to deliver therapy directly to a diseased site."
The paper on this research, IEC 118, will be presented at 11:30 a.m., Tuesday, Aug. 22, in the Renaissance Washington Hotel, Room 16.

James Baker, M.D., is the director; Roseita Esfand, Ph.D., is a research fellow; Lars Piehler, Ph.D., is a research associate; and Donald Tomalia, Ph.D., is the scientific director of the Center for Biologic Nanotechnology at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor, Mich.

A nonprofit organization with a membership of 161,000 chemists and chemical engineers, the American Chemical Society publishes scientific journals and databases, convenes major research conferences, and provides educational, science policy and career programs in chemistry. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

American Chemical Society

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