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New 'Molecular Mask' Blocks Dangerous Pathogens

Biomedical engineers have developed a hydrogel therapy designed to serve as a first line of defense against biological threats for which no vaccines exist.

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        Creating vaccines for protection against dangerous pathogens requires significant time and resources. However, vaccines, which remain the gold standard against bacteria and viruses, can become less effective or obsolete at the hands of rapidly mutating viruses such as SARS-CoV-2.

        Biomedical experts from the New Jersey Institute of Technology have developed a hydrogel therapy designed to serve as a first line of defense against biological threats for which no vaccines exist. This gel, made of computationally designed peptides, binds to receptors on invading pathogens and transforms into a multilayer molecular mask, preventing the pathogens from attaching to and entering native cells.

        In a study published in Nature Communications, the team led by Vivek Kumar, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at NJIT, detailed how this molecular mask effectively prevents infections. They also highlighted its potential for use against a wide range of pathogens and disease mutations as the mask binds with targets non-specifically.

        "[The gel] forms a larger structure and better binding than a single molecule does. While it doesn't have high specificity, it can self-assemble and stay on the target longer, forming a fiber sticker on the surface that acts like molecular Velcro," said Kumar.

        During their study, the team used computer simulations to test the fibers' efficacy against various viruses. They also administered the gel to mice and rats using injections and nasal sprays, which yielded successful results. Moreover, the hydrogel therapy proved effective in vitro against the Alpha and Omicron variants of SARS-CoV-2 and safe for test animals in vivo for 24 hours.

        Beyond this study, the team is investigating the hydrogel therapy's potential to combat drug-resistant bacteria and fungi. They aim to establish it as a safe and effective all-around mechanism for protecting individuals during the initial phases of an outbreak.

        Read the full article here to learn more about the non-specific protein molecular mask.

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