Nanotechnology being used by researchers in fight against COVID-19

With the accelerating global burden from the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers are rapidly searching for a viable vaccine or therapeutic to combat the global public health emergency. One of the approaches being investigated is the use of nanotechnology, says GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

An international collaboration has developed a nanotechnology approach to halting virus growth that could be used to treat COVID-19, as well as seasonal influenza and bird flu. The partnership includes researchers from the University of Manitoba, Leibniz Research Institute for Molecular Pharmacology (FMP), the Free University of Berlin (FU), the Humboldt University (HU), the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) and the Charité university hospital in Berlin. Their research, published in Nature in March 2020, led to the development of a chemically engineered nanoparticle which envelops flu viruses in a ‘scaffold’ preventing them from infecting host cells. The nanoparticle must now undergo further preclinical studies to investigate whether it provokes immune responses in mammals and if repeated administration leads to resistance, before it can be studied in humans.

At Northeastern University in the US, researchers are supporting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with ideas and technology that could be used to fight COVID-19. Professor Thomas Webster’s research utilizes a concept known as theranostics, where a nanoparticle can be used both to detect and treat infections, which has already been applied to influenza and tuberculosis. He is proposing that this technology could be adapted to produce nanoparticles of a similar size to COVID-19 that would attach to the virus disrupting its structure when used with a combination of infrared light treatment. This would halt the ability of the virus to survive and reproduce in the body.

Kathryn Whitney, MSc, Director of Thematic Analysis, comments: “Existing antiviral treatments are only partially effective as they attack viruses when they have already infected cells. While still in early stages of development, nanoparticles have the potential to neutralize viruses and prevent infection, which would be a more desirable and effective approach against COVID-19.”

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