Computer-designed proteins are under construction to fight the flu. Researchers are demonstrating that proteins found in nature, but that do not normally bind the flu, can be engineered to act as broad-spectrum antiviral agents against a variety of flu virus strains, including H1N1 pandemic influenza.
“One of these engineered proteins has a flu-fighting potency that rivals that of several human monoclonal antibodies,” said Dr. David Baker, professor of biochemistry at the University of Washington, in a report in Nature Biotechnology.
Baker’s research team is making major inroads in optimizing the function of computer-designed influenza inhibitors. These proteins are constructed via computer modeling to fit exquisitely into a specific nano-sized target on flu viruses. By binding the target region like a key into a lock, they keep the virus from changing shape, a tactic that the virus uses to infect living cells. The research efforts, akin to docking a space station but on a molecular level, are made possible by computers that can describe the landscapes of forces involved on the submicroscopic scale.
Baker heads the new Institute for Protein Design Center at the University of Washington. Biochemists, computer scientists, engineers and medical specialists at the center are engineering novel proteins with new functions for specific purposes in medicine, environmental protection and other fields. Proteins underlie all normal activities and structures of living cells, and also regulate disease actions of pathogens like viruses. Abnormal protein formation and interactions are also implicated in many inherited and later-life chronic disorders.