Carbohydrates help you develop your own vaccines

March 23rd, 2009 - 6:48 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, March 23 (IANS) Carbohydrates are propelling the development of futuristic new vaccines and drugs to battle malaria, HIV and many other disorders.
Carbohydrates play vital roles in the body’s defences against disease-causing viruses and bacteria.

Present as markers on microbes’ surfaces, they are recognised by the immune system as foreign material, which creates antibodies to battle the infection.

Peter H. Seeberger, doctoral researcher at Colarado University, and his team tracked a carbohydrate on the malaria parasite’s surface that enables it to infect human red blood cells, solving a long-standing mystery about how infection happens.

Subsequently, his group used a carbohydrate synthesiser to develop a malaria vaccine. Clinical trials for the vaccine are scheduled for 2010 in Mozambique and Tanzania. Its unique “anti-disease” mechanism makes it the only vaccine of its kind, he says.

The synthesiser, developed by Seeberger’s team at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, is fully automated and the fastest ever that produces significant quantities of these intricate and otherwise inaccessible carbohydrate molecules in a few hours - rather than the months or years with existing technology.

The synthesiser “allows us to make not one but many carbohydrate structures from a particular organism and test those to see if they protect against the microbe. Synthetic carbohydrates that show promising protective qualities then may become the basis for new vaccines,” Seeberger added.

Scientists trying to synthesise DNA and protein-based molecules faced a similar problem decades ago, until the invention of automated DNA and protein synthesisers.

These devices helped start a revolution in genetics and proteomics. The carbohydrate synthesiser may do the same thing for the emerging fields of glycochemistry and glycobiology - named for carbohydrate sugar chains known as “glycans.”

“Our automated synthesiser is now the fastest method to make complex carbohydrates,” Seeberger told the 237th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society during a presentation.

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