Nanosponges Could Protect The Lungs By Soaking Up Coronavirus, Study Suggests

Anna Honko mixes the nanosponges with live SARS-CoV-2 virus and lung cells at the NEIDL, evaluating how well the nanosponges can deter the novel coronavirus from infecting lung cells. Sierra Downs, courtesy of the Griffiths lab/BU NEIDL

The novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has caused 450,000 deaths to date, and part of its lethality is related to how it attacks the lungs, making it hard for people to get oxygen. A new therapeutic countermeasure to hamper SARS-CoV-2’s capacity to attack the lungs involves using nanotechnology to essentially soak up SARS-CoV-2 cells and divert them away. The findings of this avenue of treatment, conducted in cell culture dishes, were published in the journal Nano Letters.

Developed by researchers from Boston University's National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL) and the University of California San Diego, the technology could have major implications for fighting the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and could even be applied in the treatment of influenza and Ebola.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus attacks the lungs by seeking unique signatures associated with lung cell membranes, which it latches to. Here the virus takes hold, using the living lung cells to replicate their own genetic material. The researchers harnessed this lung-cell tracking interaction to create polymer droplets laden with lung cell membranes that essentially distract the virus away from the real lung tissue. The nanotechnology “sponges” bind with the SARS-CoV-2 virus better than living cells, acting as an effective countermeasure for this deadly disease.

"Our guess is that it acts like a decoy, it competes with cells for the virus," said NEIDL microbiologist Anthony Griffiths, co-corresponding author on the study, in a statement. "They are little bits of plastic, just containing the outer pieces of cells with none of the internal cellular machinery contained inside living cells. Conceptually, it's such a simple idea. It mops up the virus like a sponge."

Current results are based on cell culture dishes, but the study authors are hopeful that the nanosponges will act with similar efficiency inside the body. Once they bind with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the body’s immune system can then dispose of them as it routinely does with dead cells as part of the normal cell cycle.

It’s also hoped the nanosponges could aid Covid patients by soaking up cellular signals that trigger an over the top immune response. This has been seen in many Covid patients who develop acute respiratory distress, which is the most deadly aspect of the coronavirus infection and leads to patients being dependent on ventilators.


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