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Altered virus becomes medicine

15 June 2010 NWO (Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research)

Dutch researchers Roeland Nolte and Jeroen Cornelissen have successfully converted a virus into a unique drug distributor. They removed all of the dangerous material from the virus so that empty, semipermeable particles remained. They subsequently joined these particles together, yet even more important: they also succeeded in separating them again. This is a world first. With this discovery the researchers have blazed a trail for a new use of drugs. Their results were published in the journal Nature Chemistry.

The researchers joined the viral particles together with light-sensitive polymers. The viral particle has a negative charge and the polymer a positive charge. Opposites attract and the two stick together. The polymers therefore act as a glue for which stuck means absolutely stuck. This being the case, the challenge lies in separating all the parts again.

The polymers used by the researchers are long chains of molecules that are joined together in a tree-like structure. This means that each end of the chain can bind to a different particle. The polymers used by the researchers can be manipulated with light and that is the secret of their success. If the polymers are very briefly illuminated with UV light or light with a low wavelength, they fall apart. This allowed the researchers to stick the viral particles together, inject this complex into the body and then to allow this to separate again in the body.

Filling a virus

The empty particle can be used in many ways. For example, it can be filled with drugs or growth promoters. After injection into the body you can use a pulse of light to ensure that the complex separates at a specific location, from which the drug can gradually spread.
In addition to their use as drug distributors, virus complexes can also be used to construct chips. Then instead of drugs, a viral particle is filled with magnetic particles to make an integrated electronic switch. The researchers will now attempt to apply layers of polymer virus complexes of different compositions to a surface and then, just like for conventional chips, use light to make patterns and structures in this.


The research was carried out by an international team of researchers, including Roeland Nolte and Jeroen Cornelissen. In 2005, Cornelissen received a Vidi from NWO's Innovational Research Incentives Scheme. With this grant instrument NWO funds and facilitates groundbreaking research. Roeland Nolte received a TOP grant from NWO's Division for the Chemical Sciences. The research was carried out at Radboud University Nijmegen.

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