Attack Ebola on a nanoscale

Aug 15, 2014 by Joe O'connell
The Ebola virus. Credit: Thinkstock

(Phys.org) —The Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa has claimed more than 900 lives since February and has infected thousands more. Countries such as Nigeria and Liberia have declared health emergencies, while the World Health Organization began a two-day meeting on Wednesday to discuss ways to battle the outbreak.

There is no known vaccine, treatment, or cure for Ebola, which is contracted through the bodily fluids of an infected person or animal. But that doesn't mean there's not hope. In fact, Chemical Engineering Chair Thomas Webster's lab is currently working on one possible solution for fighting Ebola and other : nanotechnology.

"It has been very hard to develop a vaccine or treatment for Ebola or similar viruses because they mutate so quickly," explained Webster, the editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Nanomedicine. "In nanotechnology we turned our attention to developing nanoparticles that could be attached chemically to the viruses and stop them from spreading."

One particle that is showing great promise is gold. According to Webster, are currently being used to treat cancer. Infrared waves, he explained, heat up the gold nanoparticles, which, in turn, attack and destroy everything from viruses to cancer cells, but not healthy cells.

Recognizing that a larger surface area would lead to a quicker heat-up time, Webster's team created gold nanostars. "The star has a lot more surface area, so it can heat up much faster than a sphere can," Webster said. "And that greater allows it to attack more viruses once they absorb to the particles." The problem the researchers face, however, is making sure the hot gold nanoparticles attack the virus or rather than the healthy cells.

In addition to the gold nanostars, Webster's lab is also generating a nanoparticle that would serve as a "virus decoy," chemically attracting the virus to attack it rather than .

While Webster's lab has been working in nanotechnology for about 15 years, it was not until recently that his lab started to explore the benefits of nanomedicine.

"We realized the potential," Webster said, noting that his student researchers use synthetic analogs that mimic viruses' structures. "There is obviously such a huge need right now for ways to treat Ebola and other , and it's up to us to study and look at new and creative ways that traditional medicine really can't."

Explore further: 5 things to know about Ebola outbreak in W. Africa

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

5 things to know about Ebola outbreak in W. Africa

Jul 28, 2014

(AP)—There has been panic and fear about the deadly Ebola disease spreading ever since Nigerian health officials reported Friday that a Liberian man sick with the disease had traveled to Togo and then Nigeria ...

Recommended for you

Energy storage of the future

6 hours ago

Personal electronics such as cell phones and laptops could get a boost from some of the lightest materials in the world.

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

jerryjbrown
not rated yet Aug 15, 2014
I love this method. It's more like surgery than flooding the body with chemistry. It's only a matter of time till they figure it out. Now if only the big pharma companies would dump as much money into nanotech as they do in the chem lab, there'd be better progress. And they would still make profits.
loopy_martin
not rated yet Aug 20, 2014
Good idea jerryjbrown.
loopy_martin
not rated yet Aug 20, 2014
I like the idea of virus-specific particles especially if they can be functionalised to hydrolise viral protein and nucleic acid.