Nanobodies to cure Argentinean hemorrhagic fever

Virology specialist, Florencia Linero, is studying Argentinean hemorrhagic fever, a recurrent health problem amongst agricultural workers. Using the innovative nanobody medical technology, she will try to find new cures for the disease.

In rural Argentina, hemorrhagic fever is a serious health problem among agricultural workers, causing death in up to one in three cases if left untreated. The disease is caused by the Junin virus, a member of the arenaviridae family, which is transmitted through contact with body fluids or excretions of infected rodents.

Although Argentinean hemorrhagic fever has been controlled to some extent by the introduction of a vaccine, currently available treatments have limited efficacy and can lead to the development of a late neurological syndrome.

Florencia Linero has been working on the replication mechanism of the Junin arenavirus throughout her doctoral studies. She now wants to apply her in-depth knowledge of the virus to finding new ways of fighting it, using novel nanobody technology developed at the University of Ghent. Single-domain antibodies, or nanobodies, are fragments of antibodies which bind very specifically to viral antigens, the parts of the virus recognised by the immune system as foreign, leading to neutralisation of the virus particle. Nanobodies have the added advantage of high stability, low immunogenicity and are easy to produce on a large scale.

Florencia will use nanobodies derived from llama antibodies in her research, as these have a unique chemical structure that makes them highly effective in reaching difficult-to-access antigens. Having injected the llamas with a harmless, inactivated form of the Junin virus, she will attempt to isolate the DNA sequences which code for nanobodies in the blood cells stimulated by the presence of the virus. She will then scan these sequences against a Junin virus-coated plate to determine which ones have anti-viral activity. The selected DNA fragments will then be transferred into a bacterial host to allow expression and purification of the candidate nanobodies.

Florencia will then further evaluate their potential in vitro against moderately and highly virulent strains of Junin virus with the hope of identifying a strong candidate for further study.

On return to Buenos Aires, she hopes that her research will eventually lead to clinical trials of the most promising nanobodies to test their suitability both as a novel therapeutic and as a diagnostic tool for Argentinean hemorrhagic fever.

For Women in Science

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