A new war is being waged by scientists at Aquila Bioscience on disease-causing bacteria, viruses and biotoxins. The NUI Galway spin-out has signed a deal with the European Defence Agency to develop decontamination products that are portable, non-toxic and environmentally friendly.
Aquila’s expertise lies in understanding cell biology and the role of complex sugars – or glycans – which pathogens use to interact with and invade host cells. The company will deliver a novel strategy to decontaminate physical and biological surfaces by capturing pathogens using sugar-protein coated materials. The method will be used to combat a range of pathogens, and will be safe for military, defence equipment and personnel.
Pathogenic bacteria, viruses and many biotoxins display specialised sugars (glycans) and sugar-binding proteins (lectins) on their surface. This allows them to interact and invade host cells through a complex process of carbohydrate-protein mediated attachment and invasion. Aquila is utilising its expertise in glycobiology to develop novel strategies to inhibit pathogen binding to host surfaces by neutralising the sugars displayed on the pathogens.
NUI Galway’s Professor Lokesh Joshi is Science Foundation Ireland Stokes Professor of Glycosciences and a co-founder of Aquila: “This is an innovative approach to decontamination. Complex sugars coat each and every cell in a living organism and mediate interactions between cells. Glycans can connect to others on similar cells, a bit like Velcro®. Pathogens are very clever at figuring out glycan patterns, and use this to attach to and invade their hosts. We want to turn the tables, by using glycans to neutralise pathogens’ approach.”
The technology was partly developed using a Science Foundation Ireland funded TIDA Award, and the project with the European Defence Agency is expected to last two years.
Aquila has attracted further international attention from both private companies and academic institutions to help develop technologies to detect, capture and neutralise viruses and bacteria.
Professor Joshi also has ambitions to take this approach to the fight against Ebola. “Aquila and the glycoscience group in NUI Galway are looking at different strategies to prevent Ebola binding and to decontaminate surfaces infected with Ebola. These strategies can also be used for other virus and bacterial pathogens that may cause serious threat to the society.”
Overall, the science Aquila is developing is an extension of work initiated by the Alimentary Glycoscience Research Cluster (AGRC) at NUI Galway. Funded by Science Foundation Ireland five years ago, the AGRC was set up to focus on glycoscience, which was then a relatively new but important and rapidly emerging area of research. The ARGC was focused on the discovery of novel diagnostics, therapeutics and nutraceuticals. The knowledge generated and technologies developed are now also highly applicable to other infectious diseases, as well as cancer, immune system, inflammation, neuroscience and biomaterials research.
Aquila has made significant leaps in less than two years, securing a number of high profile projects; including an EU-FP7 Project aimed at developing novel, high throughput strategies to detect and identify pathogen contamination in water using carbohydrate-based approaches. More information on the work been carried out for this project can be found at (http://www.napes.eu/).
Author: Marketing and Communications Office, NUI Galway