Researchers at Virginia Tech (VT) (Blacksburg, Virginia, USA) and the University of Georgia (UGA) (Athens, Georgia, USA) are collaborating on a project to develop virus-trapping gels and surfaces that can contain carbohydrate-based polymers such as heparin. This project stems from the discovery that patients who are administered heparin, a widely used anticoagulant, had a lower risk of dying from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
Scientists have also recently learned that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, binds to a type of carbohydrate-based polymer called glycosaminoglycan (GAG). Knowing that SARS-CoV-2 passes through a large number of carbohydrate-based molecules in our body is a key insight, according to Maren Roman, associate professor of sustainable biomaterials in VT’s College of Natural Resources and Environment. “If we can determine which carbohydrates or carbohydrate chains the virus binds to, we can develop materials that work like a fly trap and capture virus particles before they get into our bodies,” Roman says.
The joint research relies on the use of cutting-edge computational tools to determine which carbohydrate molecules bind most strongly to SARS-CoV-2, explains Robert Woods, professor of biochemistry, molecular biology, and chemistry at the University of Georgia’s Complex Carbohydrate Research Center. “This work is a natural extension of our prior work on the virus, which has given us detailed computer models of one of its surface proteins, namely the Spike protein,” says Woods. “This protein is responsible for the virus’s ability to enter cells and its tendency to bind to carbohydrates.”
“Once we know exactly which carbohydrates the virus binds to, we will synthesize materials that contain these carbohydrates on a tether,” adds Michael Schulz, assistant professor of chemistry in VT’s College of Science. “We hypothesize that these materials can filter out virus particles from liquids and possibly even air streams.”
The research is supported by a $200,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) RAPID COVID-19 grant, with contributions from NSF’s Division of Materials Research and it’ Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences.
“Our ability to successfully stop this pandemic depends on researchers from different fields and even institutions joining forces and collaborating.” Roman says. “Only together will we figure this virus out.”