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Using smart chemistry to fight against flu

2017-12-08

A Malmö University researcher has developed molecule-thin films that mimic the behaviour of living cell membranes which could help discover new vaccines to fight influenza.

Sing Yee Yeung

Researcher and PhD student Sing Yee Yeung, based at the Biofilms Research Center for Biointerfaces, together with a research team from Germany developed the technique.The major pandemics of recent years have highlighted the need for rapid, simple and reliable means of discovering a virus to ensure a vaccine and other effective drugs can be produced in time.
“One of the main advantages of this method is that only a very small concentration of the virus is needed for it to be discovered,” said Yeung.

A Self-Assembled Monolayer (SAM) is a two-dimensional layer, 2-5 nanometres in thickness, where all the molecules are oriented in a predetermined direction. Yeung and her research colleagues, under the leadership of Malmö University’s Professor Börje Sellergren, have succeeded in creating these layers which have the exclusive feature that they can be controlled in a way that they can quickly attach to or detach from a surface in response to a change in the pH level. 

Virus tracking

“The molecules can be induced to attach or detach by means of a simple adjustment of the pH level. Very similar to a magnet,” explained Yeung. 

If the pH level is high, the surface – in this case a coated gold surface – is negatively charged and the rSam molecules are positively charged. In that state, they seek each other out. If the pH level is low, as is the case with an acidic solution, the surface loses its charge and the rSam layer is released.

The rSam layer functions as a bridge between the virus and the gold surface. The bridge is dynamic, and its molecules can move parallel to the surface. This makes it easier for the virus to become attached and develop several points of contact, thus maintaining a firm grip. 

Börje Sellergren is extremely pleased that a technique they have worked on for almost 20 years is now beginning to produce results.

“This is a practical method that mimics the properties of cell membranes. I believe it will have a broad field of application, particularly within biosensors and drug development,” he said.

The results are presented in the article ‘Reversible Self-Assembled Monolayers (rSAMs): Adaptable Surfaces for Enhanced Multivalent Interactions and Ultrasensitive Virus Detection’. This is one of only 200 articles published each year in the highly renowned journal, ACS Central Science.

Text: Adrian Grist

Last updated by Adrian Grist