IBM may be best known as a computer hardware company, but that soon may change, as the company’s research segment has revealed the creation of a new macromolecule that can destroy some of the world’s most devastating viruses. The chemical is touted to have the ability to combat viruses such as Zika, Ebola, dengue, Marburg, influenza, Chikungunya, Enterovirus 71, and herpes simplex. The company says that, with the help of the Watson supercomputer, they could potentially make the chemical into an antiviral wipe or even infuse products such as soap with the macromolecule to help prevent the spread of viruses.
Forbes reports that IBM Research has identified a “macromolecule” that can make deadly viruses more easily combatted by preventing them from becoming drug-resistant. The macromolecule is a “multi-pronged chemical” that was designed from “the ground up” by a team of bioengineers from the IBM Research team and Singapore’s Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN).
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The newly created macromolecule is designed to prevent viral infections and to combat preexisting viral infections. The biotech utilizes a “three-part” method to combating viruses by first locking on to the virus by attracting the virus proteins to the surface. Once the macromolecule locks on to the virus, it prevents it from spreading to nearby healthy cells, essentially making it impossible for the virus to spread any further.
The macromolecule also neutralizes the viruses’ ability to self replicate, again helping ensure viruses cannot spread. Finally, the macromolecule is designed to empower healthy to fight off a virus by utilizing a specific type of sugar that draws healthy cells to the virus. Once the healthy cells are drawn to the virus, they will identify it as a threat and begin to fight off the virus.
The bioengineers that worked on the creation of the virus-combating chemical noted no signs of resistance from the viruses. No matter what stage of the viral process the virus was in, resistance was not detected, indicating that viral mutation process can be interrupted, no matter what form the virus takes on over time. Dr. James Hedrick, lead researcher of advanced organic materials with IBM Research, noted that this is especially promising in areas with outbreaks of viruses such as Zika and Ebola, which do not have vaccines.
“With the recent outbreak of viruses such as Zika and Ebola, achieving anti-viral breakthroughs becomes even more important. We are excited about the possibilities that this novel approach represents, and are looking to collaborate with universities and other organizations to identify new applications.”
According to IBM’s press release, the short-term application of the macromolecule is in the form of infused soaps, anti-viral wipes or detergents that can be used to clean areas that have been exposed to viruses. However, in the long-term, the researchers believe the macromolecule could be used to create a new form of vaccination that can prevent a whole category of viral infections.
Dr. Yi Yan Yang, Group Leader of the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore, says that the macromolecule could combat viruses, which are a leading cause of death.
“Viral diseases continue to be one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality. We have created an anti-viral macromolecule that can tackle wily viruses by blocking the virus from infecting the cells, regardless of mutations. It is not toxic to healthy cells and is safe for use. This promising research advance represents years of hard work and collaboration with a global community of researchers.”
All viruses are different and researchers have long struggled with a way to combat viruses that rapidly mutate. Researchers note that it would be impossible to create a drug for ever type of virus. Therefore, the IBM Research and Singapore Bioengineering and Nanotechnology researchers looked for a way to target the surfaces of viruses, which all have a similar electrical charge. Hedrick says that it was this electrical charge on the surface of the viruses that gave researchers a specific technique to target and combat the infected cells.
“There are so many viruses, and they’re very complex. They often possess this unstable genome that allows them to mutate very quickly. So you can’t design a drug for each and every virus. We looked at this in a broader way, realizing that viruses have [electrical] charges on their surfaces. We thought that might be a really good way to start—by targeting the surfaces of viruses.”
While the IBM macromolecule research may seem like a reach from IBM’s computer hardware roots but the scientists are hoping to utilize the supercomputer Watson to further the researcher by inputting clinical trial data for efficient analyzing and for identifying the best patients for the trials.
What do you think about IBM’s virus and biotech research?