Synthetic polymer could stop the spread of HIV

Posted by er134 at Sep 09, 2013 10:50 AM |
University of Leicester biochemist plays role in discovery of potential HIV ‘inhibitor’

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 9 September 2013

A precisely designed macromolecule that mimics the binding of HIV to immune system cells could be used to stop the virus from physically entering the body, according to a new study by scientists from the University of Leicester, University of Warwick and Queen Mary University of London.

The researchers created the large molecule with multiple sugars, known as glycopolymers. By using different sugars attached to the macromolecule in solution, the scientists were able to investigate which sugar molecules were the most effective in inhibiting the potential binding of the virus.

They then measured how the designed macromolecules compete with the virus to bind to the dendritic cells of the immune system at different concentrations.

Dr Russell Wallis, from the University of Leicester’s Departments of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation and Biochemistry, was involved in analysing the binding data in this study to identify which of the glycopolymers (synthesised by researchers at Warwick University) were the best inhibitors.

HIV hijacks the immune system by displaying carbohydrates on its surface that are recognized by a carbohydrate-binding protein on dendritic cells called DC-SIGN.  Once tethered to dendritic cells, HIV can then infect other immune cells to cause disease.  The strategy underpinning this work is the use of glycopolymers to block DC-SIGN so that it is no longer recognised by HIV, thereby removing the primary route of infection.

Dr Wallis said: “Although research is still at an early stage, it is an exciting approach because it targets the way that HIV infects vulnerable cells in the body.  By acting as a physical barrier to the virus, the glycopolymers could be used to prevent the spread of HIV through sexual contact, one of the major routes of infection.”

“These are preliminary but encouraging results for potentially preventing the spread of the HIV by sexual contact,” said Dr Remzi Becer, who led the study at Queen Mary’s School of Engineering and Materials Science.

“We’ve shown that our synthetic molecule binds to the immune cell, which in turn blocks the virus from attaching and entering. The precisely designed macromolecules could be an ingredient of a condom cream or vaginal gel to act as a physical barrier from allowing the virus into the body.”

Dr Becer added: “While this isn’t a cure for HIV, it is a novel approach that could dramatically slow down the spread of HIV by sexual contact, and a model that could be replicated to treat other sexually transmitted diseases.”

The research is published in the journal Macromolecular Rapid Communications.


Notes to Editors

  1. ‘Synthetic glycopolypeptides as potential inhibitory agents for dendritic cells and HIV-1 trafficking’ will be published in the journal Macromolecular Rapid Communications on 3 September 2013. The article is available from this link:
  2. Other researchers involved in the collaboration were drawn from Dublin City University, University of Warwick, University of Leicester and Warwick Medical School.

For more information, please contact:

University of Leicester:

Dr Russell Wallis on:



Queen Mary University of London:

Neha Okhandiar

Public Relations Manager

Queen Mary University of London


Queen Mary University of London

Queen Mary University of London is one of the UK's leading research-focused higher education institutions with some 16,900 undergraduate and postgraduate students.

A member of the Russell Group, it is amongst the largest of the colleges of the University of London. Queen Mary’s 3,800 staff deliver world class degree programmes and research across 21 academic departments and institutes, within three Faculties: Science and Engineering; Humanities and Social Sciences; and the School of Medicine and Dentistry.

Queen Mary is ranked 11th in the UK according to the Guardian analysis of the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise, and has been described as ‘the biggest star among the research-intensive institutions’ by the Times Higher Education.

The College has a strong international reputation, with around 20 per cent of students coming from over 100 countries. Queen Mary has an annual turnover of £300m, research income worth £90m, and generates employment and output worth £600m to the UK economy each year.

The College is unique amongst London's universities in being able to offer a completely integrated residential campus, with a 2,000-bed award-winning Student Village on its Mile End campus.

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