Thursday, January 6, 2011

0 TED Talk: Aiding the immune system to fight infection

I caught this talk recently on TED that was more of a teaser for me. I found it interesting and wanted to share here.

About this TED Talk

Drug-resistant bacteria kills, even in top hospitals. But now tough infections like staph and anthrax may be in for a surprise. Nobel-winning chemist Kary Mullis, who watched a friend die when powerful antibiotics failed, unveils a radical new cure that shows extraordinary promise.(Recorded at TED 2009, February 2009 in Long Beach, California. Duration: 4:35)

[ More here, in an interview with Kary Mullis. ]

So, in case you didn't know, in the early 1980s, Kary Mullis developed the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which is a way of making copies of a DNA strand using the enzyme polymerase and some basic DNA "building blocks." Mullis shared the 1993 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing this technique.

But Mullis has moved on to doing research on chemically programmable immunity using Altermune technology.

Altermune, LLC, in collaboration with Ron Cook of Biosearch in Novato, CA, re-directed antibodies whose job used to be binding to something called the alpha-Gal epitope or galactose-alpha-1,3-galactosyl-beta-1,4-N0-acetyl glucosamine (now say that three times fast, I dare you) to influenza using DNA aptamers attached to the alpha-Gal epitope.

These linkers can grab influenza virion and turn it over to a human macrophage, which gobbles it up. Testing was done using a drug that can be inhaled.

Altermune is currently focusing on Influenza A and drug resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

This is fascinating.

Programming your own immune system to more effectively fight infections.

I've been wondering what other technologies we could use to combat infection and avoid the issue of antibiotic resistance, which is becoming more crucial as there has been little in the way of new antibiotic research and development during the past decade.

If Kary Mullis can help us use our own immune systems to effectively fight infection, maybe we can not only avoid resistance - but the side effects of many antibiotics and antiviral medications as well.

I'm sure there are some drawbacks and kinks to work out. I'm wondering, for example, how this technology handles transfections. I need to replay the entire TED talk and watch it again, and read the research.

In the meantime, if you are up to the task, here is a more technical Powerpoint presentation on Altermune I have found online:

Note of bizarreness: Read the comments on the original TED post. Apparently Mullis is an AIDS denialist? Does anyone know about that?

Dig out your googling chops... the more you learn about Mullis, the more bizarre his story becomes.


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