'Quantum dots' may lead to new Ebola and HIV treatments

A team of researchers from the University of Leeds recently discovered the method that HIV and Ebola viruses use to bond to cells and spread throughout the body, potentially leading a new way to treat Ebola and HIV infections.

The researchers hope that their study could show how to interrupt the way the viruses interact with the body’s cells. This may be more effective than attempting to destroy the viruses.

The study was published in the Angewandte Chemie journal.

"Until now, how these viruses attach to cells was a 'black box' to chemists,” Dr. Yuan Guo, lead author of the study from the Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology at the University of Leeds, said. “We knew that the viruses were interacting with healthy cells, but the way in which they bound together was still a mystery."

The scientists used nano-sized crystals that they named “quantum dots.” These dots imitate the virus’s shape, acting like technological stand-ins during the experiments. This is how the researchers witness the way the viruses bond to the human cells.

"Viruses also attach to the surface of healthy cells through interactions between proteins and sugars,” Dr. Bruce Turnbull, co-author of the study, also from the Astbury Centre, and the University's School of Chemistry, said. “These interactions are weak individually, but can be reinforced by forming multiple contacts to offer the viruses a 'way in.' We want to understand what factors control this binding process and, eventually, develop a range of inhibitors designed to target specific viral bindings."

The dots needed a sugar coating for the quantum dots to bind with the cells. This is the first time that this new approach has been used.

"We often only hear about sugar in a negative light, about how consuming it is bad for our health,” Dr. Turnbull said. “But there are many different types of sugars that play a vital role in human biology. In fact, all of our cells are coated in sugar and they interact with other cells by proteins binding with these sugars. Indeed, the reason why we have different blood types is because of the different types of sugar coating on our red blood cells.”

The scientists intend to interrupt this bonding process to eliminate the pathogens.

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University of Leeds

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