Scientists at Boston University have made a breakthrough using nanotechnology that could not only fight SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19, but virtually any virus.
According to a study published in the journal Nano Letters, the researchers used “nanosponges” — biofriendly plastics wrapped in a cell membrane — to imitate actual cells.
Their theory is if they introduced dangerous viruses to an environment — in this case, a petri dish containing lung cells, COVID-19’s favorite — the virus would be attracted to the fake cells instead of healthy, actual ones.
And it worked.
“I was skeptical at the beginning because it seemed too good to be true, but when I saw the first set of results in the lab, I was just astonished,” admitted Anna Honko, microbiologist and co-author of the study.
Fellow microbiologist and study co-author Anthony Griffiths added, “Our guess is that it acts like a decoy, it competes with cells for the virus…They are little bits of plastic, just containing the outer pieces of cells with none of the internal cellular machinery contained inside living cells. It mops up the virus like a sponge.”
It worked so well, in fact, the scientists say that the viruses actually preferred “attacking” the fake cells — but since those decoys don’t contain any internal cellular structure, the viruses weren’t able to hijack them and spread like they do actual cells.
What’s more, the decoys also attract inflammatory cells, which can trigger some viruses’ worst effects, like lung failure.
The next steps will be to try testing these nanosponges in animals, and later, people. “In humans, it could be something like a nasal spray,” Griffiths explains.