Brilliant X-Rays Light Up Dangerous Viruses In Detailed 3DMain Category: Medical Devices / Diagnostics
Also Included In: Infectious Diseases / Bacteria / Viruses | Biology / Biochemistry
Article Date: 18 Feb 2013
Diamond Light Source, the UK's national synchrotron facility, is launching a new lab to study the detailed atomic and molecular structures of dangerous viruses and bacteria, including those that cause serious diseases such as AIDS, Hepatitis and some types of flu. Studying the detailed structures of pathogens in this way can help the development of new treatments and vaccines.
Situated at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus near Oxford, Diamond is the first and only facility of its kind in Europe, and only one of two in the world.
The synchrotron generates highly intense pin-point beams of light by accelerating electrons to near light-speed.
The exceptional high quality beams range from X-rays to ultra-violet and infrared and are extremely bright. For instance, the X-rays are around 100 billion times brighter than those of a standard hospital X-ray machine.
Diamond's new lab, called Crystal, will be handling Containment Level 3 pathogens, that is those that can cause serious illness and death and for which treatments exist.
This is one level below Level 4, which covers fatal pathogens such as Marburg and Ebola viruses, for which there is no treatment. This level of pathogen can only be handled by highly secure government labs.
Katherine McAuley, science leader for the Diamond facility, says in a statement:
"The unique capabilities that the facility offers are expected to draw scientists from around the world, and establish the nation's synchrotron as a hub of world-leading research into disease prevention."
Dave Stuart, Life Sciences Director at Diamond Light Source and Professor of Structural Biology at Oxford University, presented Diamond's latest work on viruses at the 2013 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which ran from 14 to 18 February in Boston.
At the meeting, Stuart also spoke of the launch of the new lab:
"Crystal provides unique facilities in Europe for the study of serious viruses. Nowhere in the world can structures be so readily solved with the speed and efficiency that is now available at Diamond."
He says the new lab is "great news for the UK research community, as the facility will be a resource with the potential to provide new pathways for treatment."
He and his colleagues expect the announcement will attract interest from other UK groups like the Particle Imaging Centre in Oxford, which also has contained laboratories including a crystallisation laboratory, that could support the preparation of samples prior to study at Diamond.
Scientists at Diamond have already been studying pathogens at lower levels of containment.
For example, in 2012, a Chinese and British team determined the structure of Human Enterovirus 71 (EV71) that causes hand-foot-and-mouth disease.
Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is common in small children but can develop at any age. Symptoms include a rash on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, accompanied by sores in the mouth. The rash can sometimes spread to the legs and buttocks.
However, EV71 can also cause severe central nervous system disease in children and poses serious public health threats across the Asia-Pacific region. There is currently no treatment or vaccine.
Using the synchrotron's brilliant beams of X-rays, the team could visualize EV71 in different states and collect a series of structures. These revealed a detailed 3D image of the virus, where it appears to be "breathing" rather than just behaving like a rigid object.
Stuart says such results create opportunities for developing new treatments. Not only did they uncover the structure of EV71, but they also found out how it spreads through the cells of the human body.
"These findings can now be used to develop new treatments for hand-foot-and-mouth; and also directly translated to other viruses of the same family, including polio and some forms of the common cold," sas Stuart.
With the addition of the new lab, researchers at Diamond plan to build on the success with EV71 and undertake more complex studies, quickly and effectively.
McAuley, Stuart and the 3,000 or so other academic and industrial researchers hope to shine Diamond's light on a wide range of applications ranging from structural biology, health and medicine to solid-state physics, nanoscience, electronics, chemistry and engineering.
In biology and medicine, for example, they expect to make progress in the fight against illnesses such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, osteoporosis and many cancers.
Diamond Light Source is a not-for-profit limited company funded as a joint venture by the UK Government through the Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC) in partnership with the Wellcome Trust.
In a study published in the January issue of the journal Immunity, researchers in the US describe how they identified a natural antiviral protein that stops HIV and certain other deadly viruses from entering host cells. It is hoped that discovery will also help develop new treatments agains what are considered "priority pathogens" for national biosecurity purposes.
The Diamond Particle Imaging Centre
Written by Catharine Paddock PhD
Copyright: MediLexicon International Ltd
Original article posted on Medical News Today.
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