Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Anti-HIV Molecules: The Key Role of One Everyday Material

This post was authored by @MikeMadarasz of the Institute for International Research

“Injection molding high temperature resistant plastics provide part makers with design flexibility, high production rates, lower labor costs, and less or no finishing of molded parts.” 

Believe it or not, some of the manufacturing advantages of polymers (above) could be crucial to a key biologic development.  Polymers, a synthetic material in everything from styrofoam to credit cards, may actually be part of a solution to one day block HIV infection.  Thanks to new techniques in synthetic chemistry, scientists are now exploring ways to use polymers in biological settings. 

Dan Mitchell, a researcher at the University of Warwick, UK, is one of these scientists.  “Over the last ten or fifteen years, the types of chemical reactions used to synthesize polymers have elaborated, so you can now develop polymers of a highly defined length and size” explained Mitchell in a recent BioRadiations article.  Mitchell and his colleagues are specifically focused on the DC-SIGN protein, which play a critical role in the onset of an HIV infection, and how polymers might interact with it.  In the initial stages of HIV, the virus uses DC-SIGN receptors as a vehicle to travel to the lymph nodes.

Manipulating polymers in a way that would allow them to bind to DC-SIGN proteins could ultimately inhibit HIV infections.  In a recent paper, Mitchell and his colleagues described a high level of success in controlling these polymers.  Explains Mitchell, “Unlike mixing lots of different polymer lengths together as you would to make a composite like nylon fabric, we made polymers that were sequence-controlled at the molecular level… We had a range of molecules with different types of carbohydrate molecules at distinct points along the polymer backbone we wanted to see which ones bound to DC-SIGN better or worse, and did that correlate with the existence of sugars at specific points in those polymers?”

To answer this question, Mitchell and his team set up a series of competition assays—analyzing them with Bio-Rad’s ProteOn™ XPR36 protein interaction array systemThe results were encouraging.  Mitchell found that the polymers did indeed prevent binding on the DC-SIGN protein. 

So what’s next?  “The next step is to use these polymers in experiments with very high quality cells or even tissues,” Mitchell says. “We need to get cells from human beings, incubate them with the polymers, and study their responses. We don’t have that set up yet.”  With more research, future studies with more complex HIV models could be on the horizon. 

You can check out the full article from BioRadiations here.

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