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A small step towards fighting the influenza virus


By emulating nature, a Malmö University researcher has developed new technology that replicates how biological cell membranes behave when they interact with the influenza virus.

Sing Yee Yeung

While it is just one small piece in a giant puzzle, it is hoped that this technology could help in earlier diagnosis of flu and improve drugs to fight the infectious disease. On top of that, it is possible that the same technology could be used as a tool for the development of tissue engineering.  

Researcher and PhD student Sing Yee Yeung, based at the Biofilms Research Center for Biointerfaces, will present her findings when she defends her thesis, Stimuli Responsive Lipid Bilayer Mimics for Protein, Virus and Cell Recognition.

As part of a team of researchers, she has developed a new type of molecular surface layer which can be used to detect the influenza virus. A technology which can create an environment in which cell behaviour can be influenced more precisely.

“Researchers have for years used model surfaces where the molecules hold fixed positions. These models thus lack the dynamics of the cell membranes which are present in nature. 

“Living cells are bounded by a cell membrane that protects the cell from the outside world. The membrane consists of a double layer of lipids. The diaphragm also carries sugar and protein molecules like a forest, covering the surface of the cell. These act as guards for the cells and "talk" with external cells or molecules which affect what happens inside the cell.” 

The molecules in the lipid layer are movable and adapt geometrically to the external molecules, cells or organisms that they interact with. In the thesis, Yeung has shown two biomimetic applications of these membrane-like surfaces. In the first, the surfaces play the role of host cell in an influenza virus infection which shows that viruses bind with extremely high affinity to the surfaces, which can be derived from the dynamics of the surface — this allows ultra-sensitive virus detection. 

In the second biomimetic application, the surfaces have been designed to mimic the natural environment of the living cell, the so-called extracellular matrix (ECM). The research shows a unique combination of surface dynamics and reversibility for controlled cell adhesion, modulation and differentiation, as well as recycling of cells. 

“We believe that these advances will be of great importance in several different areas. In particular as a tool for sensitive detection of virus infections and as a tool for the development of regenerative medicine.”

Text: Adrian Grist

Last updated by Adrian Grist