One of the most difficult aspects of working at the nanoscale is actually seeing the object being worked on.
Biological structures like viruses, which are smaller than the wavelength of light, are invisible to standard optical microscopes and difficult to capture in their native form with other imaging techniques.
A multidisciplinary research group at UCLA has now teamed up to not only visualize a virus but to use the results to adapt the virus so that it can deliver medication instead of disease.
In a paper published in the journalScience, Hongrong Liu, a UCLA postdoctoral researcher in microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics, and colleagues reveal an atomically accurate structure of the adenovirus that shows the interactions among its protein networks. The work provides critical structural information for researchers around the world attempting to modify the adenovirus for use in vaccine and gene-therapy treatments for cancer.
To modify a virus for gene therapy, researchers remove its disease-causing DNA, replace it with medications and use the virus shell, which has been optimized by millions of years of evolution, as a delivery vehicle.
Lily Wu, a UCLA professor of molecular and medical pharmacology and co-lead author of the study, and her group have been attempting to manipulate the adenovirus for use in gene therapy, but the lack of information about receptors on the virus’s surface had hampered their quest.
“We are engineering viruses to deliver gene therapy for prostate and breast cancers, but previous microscopy techniques were unable to visualize the adapted viruses,” Wu said. “This was like trying to a piece together the components of a car in the dark, where the only way to see if you did it correctly was to try and turn the car on.”