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Fighting viral infections with engulfing nano-shells

European research consortium VIROFIGHT to advance novel treatment against viruses

2020-07-22 – News from the Physics Department

Instead of targeting virus-specific proteins or enzymes by small molecules as done by current antivirals, researchers of the EU-funded VIROFIGHT project will develop nano-shells that are supposed to engulf and neutralize entire viruses. This novel approach has the potential to help fight multiple diseases caused by viruses such as COVID-19, HIV infection, influenza, and Hepatitis B with one and the same approach.

VIROFIGHT Project logo
Logo of the Virofight consortium

Viral infections affect millions of people every year. They have a significant death toll and cause tremendous human suffering and costs to society. For approximately 70% of all WHO listed viruses, no treatment is available and the antiviral drugs that do exist must be applied very early after infection to be effective. The current COVID-19 pandemic is only one such example. The VIROFIGHT consortium proposes a new approach to fight viral infections, to address the lack of broadly applicable antiviral treatments, and to create means for combating emerging pathogens.

VIROFIGHT Project logo
Nano-shells engulf and neutralize viruses mediated by multivalent virus-binding aptamers or antibodies. – Image: Hendrik Dietz /TUM

“Our mission is to develop and test prototypes of nano-shells that have the principal capacity to neutralize any given virus by engulfing them”, says project coordinator Hendrik Dietz, professor of Biomolecular Nanotechnology at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and Principal Investigator at TUM’s Munich School of BioEngineering. “We think this may lead to neutralization of the pathogen by occlusion. Different kinds of viruses could be fought using the same platform.” Ulrike Protzer, professor of virology at TUM, adds: “This may also help to prevent negative effects that may be elicited by antibodies used for virus neutralization.”

The biocompatible nano-shells developed by the researchers combine DNA origami, protein design and in-vitro evolution. Their interior will be coated with a layer of virus-specific molecules to exploit avidity effects for strong and specific virus binding. These binding effects will be tested at laboratory scale on a variety of viruses. To achieve this technological target, the interdisciplinary project integrates experts on supramolecular chemistry molecular nanoengineering, and virology.

More Information

VIROFIGHT is supported by a grant of 3.88 million Euro from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 funding programme. The project kicked-off on June 1st, 2020 and will run for four years.

Project partners

  • Aarhus University (Denmark)
  • ARTTIC S.A.S. (France)
  • National Institute of Chemistry (Slovenia)
  • University of Regensburg (Germany)
  • Technical University of Munich (TUM; Germany) – Coordinator


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