Comenius University scientists are working on developing an HIV vaccine based on nanoparticles

Bratislava, 11 April 2017: Comenius University scientists in Bratislava are intensely working on the development of an HIV vaccine with the use of nanoparticles. Since the discovery of the HIV virus and AIDS itself there has been a lot of activity focuses on eliminating the virus and preventing the spread of the AIDS epidemic. One of the most pressing questions is the development of an effective vaccine.

12. 04. 2017 12.47 hod.
By: CU Public Relations Office

Classical approaches to finding a vaccine to the HIV virus have been failing. However, it appears very likely that the development of an effective vaccine can be achieved using nanotechnologies which would promote a vaccine’s biological activity.

The Department of Nuclear Physics and Biophysics at Comenius University’s Faculty of Mathematics, Physics and Informatics, in partnership with the University of Łódź, have joined in the worldwide effort of resolve this serious problem and have started research work on developing an HIV vaccine which would work on the basis of using nanoparticles: specifically dendrimers and gold nanoparticles.

“We are preparing complexes of synthetic HIV peptides (small proteins derived from the HIV structure) and their carriers, which are various forms of nanoparticles. We can then define these complexes and study their interaction with model biological membranes using various biophysical methods. Our common goal is to select the most effective HIV-synthetic peptide and its carrier in terms of their common ability to bond together and be transported through the lipid double-layer of dendritic cells,” said Dr Zuzana Garaiová, from Comenius University’s Faculty of Mathematics, Physics and Informatics (Chief Investigator of Project SK-PL-2015-0021, which is currently being financed by the Slovak Research and Development Agency).

The research is in its pre-clinical phase, where studies are being undertaken to identify, synthesize, and verify the biological activity of preparations in finding a potential vaccine against HIV and its elements. In addition to the Slovak and Polish scientists, this international research effort involves Spanish researchers from the University of Alcalá who are preparing various types of nanoparticles, and another Spanish team from Gregorio Marañon University Hospital, who are studying the internalization of complexes into the dendritic cells.

Alongside their Polish colleagues, Comenius University scientists have been able to confirm the ability of three types of HIV-synthetic peptides to specifically bond with selected and analysed types of nanoparticles. They have experimental facilities available which help them to prepare models of biological membranes and analyse them from a perspective of various physical parameters. The biological membrane is one of the first barriers which an HIV-synthetic peptide and a nanoparticle (as its carrier) has to pass through in order to transport a therapeutic substance into cells presenting an antigen. Using model membranes, the Comenius University scientists were able to examine the type and strength of interaction of the studied systems, which in the case of (non-complex) HIV peptides was lower than when compared to peptides in a complex structure with nanoparticles. This discovery illustrates the potential of certain nanoparticles to have an effect in the lipid double-layer and thus aid in the transport of HIV-synthetic peptides into the interior of cells.

The development of any sort of therapeutic substance is a difficult process. The purpose of the pre-clinical trial is to prove and determine the biological effect, including the occurrence and extent of any undesirable side-effects. Only after this stage has been passed will it be possible to then start testing on humans (phases 1 to 3 of clinical trials), so that the health risks involved with its application are minimized.

“I highly appreciate the activity of these researchers, who have decided to work on studying one of the most dangerous transferrable diseases and find a means to eliminate it; an HIV vaccine could be a part of this effort,” said Comenius University Rector, Professor Karol Mičieta.