Proteins computer-designed to block flu invasions

For the flu to thrive, the virus needs to invade cells. Researchers have tapped computers to engineer proteins that bind to the flu in a way that prevents the virus from horning in on cells. And the proteins hone in on an area of the virus that makes them able to stymie multiple flu strains, according to a report from the University of Washington (UW).

Computer modeling enabled the researchers from the lab of UW professor David Baker to tailor the proteins to precisely fit into the virus target, hemagglutinin, and computers shed light on activities at a submicroscopic scale. To pry into cells, the flu virus changes shape. Researchers reason that their computer-engineered protein curbs the change in shape to block the virus from infecting cells.

With goals such as thwarting infections or attacking cancer, scientists have been increasing their use of computer modeling to understand disease targets and design bull's-eye drugs. In the UW study, the researchers used computer modeling, gene sequencing and energy mapping to optimize their protein designs for the job at hand--stopping the flu in its tracks. However, as quoted in the UW article, Baker says that his group's approach to computer-designed proteins is "a powerful route to inhibitors or binders for any surface patch on any desired target of interest." 

"We anticipate that our approach combining computational design followed by comprehensive energy landscape mapping will be widely useful in generating high-affinity and high-specificity binders to a broad range of targets for use in therapeutics and diagnostics," said Baker, whose lab has led efforts to break ground in biotech IT, such as the development of [email protected] and Foldit, the online computer game.

- read the UW article