Picture: Hydrogels 
Molecularly imprinted hydrogels
© University of Maryland

The concept could also be used to make vaccine production more efficient and in a pill to reduce glucose levels in diabetics, among other applications. The virus sponge is based on a technology called molecular imprinting. In molecular imprinting, researchers stamp a molecule's shape into a substance (in this case, a hydrogel—a sponge-like material). When the specific molecule filters through the hydrogel, it fits in the imprint hole and is trapped.

The research group of Peter Kofinas, a professor in the University of Maryland's A. James Clark School's Fischell Department of Bioengineering, is the first to apply molecular imprinting to the capture of viruses, and to show that this approach is possible using an inexpensive hydrogel. "This virus removal device can be used the same way as a kidney dialysis machine," Kofinas continued. "If you have a viral infection, you can go to the hospital and have your blood cleaned of that virus."

Kofinas' team has so far used this technique on plant viruses and Human Parvovirus B19, which causes "fifth disease" in babies, and has now begun work on the H5N1 influenza virus. "This new technology could be integrated into hospitals and healthcare centres at minimal cost," according to Kofinas. Modifying existing dialysis machines to include the virus sponge technology would be relatively simple, he said.

While a new vaccine must be developed each year for the strain of influenza that is expected to be the most potent, a hydrogel can be imprinted as a universal filter for all flu strains. However, to achieve better performance, a hydrogel filter can also be produced to catch a particular strain of the virus.

The molecular imprinting process has many applications beyond trapping viruses. A pill containing the hydrogels could be developed to remove excess sugars when taken with food, thus helping diabetics regulate their diet, he explained.

MEDICA.de; Source: University of Maryland, College Park