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U.S.: Atomic-Level Virus Model for Better Flu Treatment

For the first time, researchers at the University of California, San Diego, with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), have constructed an atomic-level computer model of the H1N1 virus that uncovers new vulnerabilities via glycoprotein “breathing” and “tilting” movements. This study, published in ACS Central Science, proposes potential methodologies for developing future influenza vaccines and antivirals.

The flu vaccine’s principal targets are two surface glycoproteins, hemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA). While the HA protein aids the virus in binding to the host cell, the NA protein functions like scissors, severing the HA from the cell membrane and allowing the virus to proliferate. Although both glycoproteins’ characteristics have been investigated previously, a thorough understanding of their mobility is absent.

“Once we verified our models were true, we realised the huge potential this discovery offered,” Rommie Amaro, the project’s primary investigator, outlined. “This discovery could be utilised to develop techniques of maintaining the protein locked open so that antibodies can always access it.”

Amaro is sharing the data with other researchers so that they may learn more about how the influenza virus moves, matures and evolves. “This opens the door for other groups to utilise similar tactics against other infections. We’ve modelled SARS-CoV-2 in the past and now H1N1, but there are other flu variations, MERS, RSV and HIV — this is only the beginning.

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 1 billion occurrences of influenza annually, including 3-5 million severe cases and up to 650,000 influenza-related respiratory fatalities. Seasonal flu vaccines must be modified yearly to match the most prevalent strains. The vaccination is quite successful when it reaches the dominant strain; however, it may provide minimal protection when it does not match.

In addition to the computer models, the NSF established another health-tech answer in the form of a novel tool and procedure that uses “vortex ultrasound” – a type of ultrasonic tornado – to break down blood clots in the brain. The novel method eliminates lumps generated in an in vitro cerebral venous sinus thrombosis model, or CVST, faster than previous procedures.

“Our earlier study looked at ways that employ ultrasound to clear blood clots utilising what are essentially forward-facing waves,” explains co-corresponding author Xiaoning Jiang. “Our new work employs vortex ultrasound, which produces ultrasound waves with a helical waveform.”

“In other words, the ultrasound is spinning as it flows ahead,” explains Jiang, a North Carolina State University physics professor. “Based on our in vitro tests, this strategy removes blood clots faster than conventional procedures, owing to shear stress caused by the vortex wave. Our discovery here is essential because existing CVST attempts fail in 20% to 40% of cases.”

CVST happens when a blood clot forms in the veins that drain blood from the brain. CVST incidence rates in the United States were between two and three per 100,000 in 2018 and 2019, and the momentum appeared to be growing.

On the other hand, MIT researchers devised a mechanism to integrate a technological platform comparable to GPS on smart tablets to improve pharmaceutical and gastrointestinal diagnosis. The device is known as a “GPS” because it determines the location of the smart pills. As these “smart pills” pass through the digestive tract, they collect health data, snap images, and even deliver drugs.

The iMAG (Ingestible Microdevices for Anatomic mapping of the Gastrointestinal Trace) technology is not the first trackable smart pill. Nonetheless, its creators believe it is the most accurate and user-friendly tracking system ever invented. A smart drug must know where it is in the body to perform its function effectively, just as a delivery driver must know which street, they are on to deliver an item to the correct destination.


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