A macromolecule – a giant molecule made up of smaller units – has now been developed that could have the potential to block multiple types of viruses, despite the many variations involved. It's still early days yet, but the results could lead to drugs that aren't tricked by mutating virus strains.
The scientists, from tech giant IBM and the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore, ignored the RNA and DNA of the viruses they used for testing – these would traditionally be the areas to target, as they give the viruses their characteristics, but they also tend to vary from virus to virus and mutation to mutation.
Instead the team looked at glycoproteins – large molecules attached to the outside of all viruses and capable of latching onto cells in the body - the process that actually makes us sick. The macromolecule that's now been developed attracts viruses and then hitches a ride on these glycoproteins, neutralising their acidity levels and making them less able to replicate in the process.
The macromolecule has another method of attack too – a sugar called mannose, which attaches itself to healthy immune cells and draws them closer to the virus, speeding up the fight against the infection.
Based on the tests already carried out by the team on viruses such as Ebola and dengue, the macromolecule works as intended. It binds itself to the glycoproteins, disabling viral ability to infect healthy cells, while the mannose was also found to be effective in stopping viruses from infecting immune cells.