Genetic engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (USA) have developed a virus-like DNA structure that can help fight HIV and coronavirus in the future. This was reported in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Recall that since the 1980s, scientists have been working on methods for constructing various DNA molecules to achieve various scientific goals, including medical ones. In 2006, a method of DNA origami was developed at the California Institute of Technology, with which chains of thousands of molecules were arranged in different geometric shapes.

Already in 2016, the Massachusetts laboratory of Professor Mark Bate developed an algorithm based on this method, which made it possible to design three-dimensional virus-like structures of a given shape from synthetic DNA. At the same time, a method was found to attach various molecules to the resulting structures, including viral antigens - proteins inherent in specific viruses.

In a new study, Bate’s laboratory simulated the shape and size of a natural human immunodeficiency virus using DNA-origami and spotted it with HIV antigens.

  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus in the Artist's View

“The DNA structure is similar to a perforated panel on which antigens can be fixed in any position. Virus-like particles allowed us to discover for the first time the fundamental molecular principles for the recognition of antigens by cells of the immune system, ”said Marc Bate.

According to the scientists, such a development is the basis for creating a new generation of antiviral vaccines. The mechanism of action of such a vaccine is simple - having detected an imitation of a virus, the body produces immune cells (primarily B-lymphocytes) and produces antibodies to real natural viruses.

According to scientists, the most difficult task was to find the correct size of the synthesized DNA structures, determine the required number of attached antigens and calculate the optimal distance between them for the best activation of B-lymphocytes. 

Scientists say the results of this study may help develop an HIV vaccine. The virus antigen used in this work is currently undergoing clinical trials in humans.

In recent months, Bate’s laboratory, in collaboration with other US laboratories, has been conducting studies in which HIV antigens are replaced by proteins found on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. The effectiveness of the immune response is tested in experiments on mice.

  • SARS-CoV-2 Coronavirus causing COVID-19
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“Our technology makes it easy to replace various antigens and peptides of different types of viruses in order to find out during the experiments whether they can become vaccines,” said Bate.

The new approach is applicable to the development of vaccines against a wide variety of viruses, including various types of coronaviruses, including known and possible future variants thereof, scientists say.