March 2, 2011
A researcher at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Eshelman School of Pharmacy was recently awarded a $100,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to study whether mucus membranes can be altered to block viruses like HIV and herpes.
"We know viruses cross through mucus to cause infection. We know very little about how they do this, though, and trying to fight a virus once it's infected the body is like trying to defend a castle from the inside after you've left the gate unlocked," said infectious-disease researcher Sam Lai.
While viruses can be transmitted through blood or broken skin, most spread through mucosal membranes in the lungs, stomach, and reproductive tract. Mucus' stringy, stretchy composition is actually a mesh framework similar to a 3-D spider web. Lai will use the grant to try and tighten the mesh's weave or make it stickier to block virus particles from passing through to the body.
The research will collect mucus secretion samples from human donors and place viruses in those secretions, said Lai, who will work with Johns Hopkins University Biophysics Professor Richard Cone. "This way, we can look at the virus' real-time mobility to see when the mucus becomes impenetrable."
02.28.2011; Whitney L.J. Howell
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