The DEFEND project aims to develop engineered nanospheres which when delivered into the respiratory system, will bind to and neutralize SARS-CoV-2
A researcher in South East Technological University’s (SETU) Ocular Therapeutics Research Group (OTRG) is exploring the use of nanotechnology to prevent and treat COVID-19.
Funded by the SETU PhD/Masters Research Scholarship programme, Ali Taha Ozdemir (Taha) is a first year PhD student in OTRG, part of the Pharmaceutical and Molecular Biotechnology Research Centre (PMBRC) at SETU. The Design and Evaluation of First-line COVID-19 respiratory defence by immune-Enhancing Nano-Decoys (DEFEND) is the title of Taha’s research project. The project aims to develop engineered nanospheres in the form of ‘nanodecoys’, which when delivered into the respiratory system, will bind to and neutralize SARS-CoV-2, preventing its attachment to cells in our respiratory system. When loaded with potential antivirals, nanodecoys can also deliver therapeutics directly into the lungs. With the aid of nanodecoy therapy, the immune system will have a greater opportunity to clear the virus and repair damaged tissue, potentially reducing the number of fatalities.
Benefits of nanotechnology to biomedical research
Speaking of the importance of this research, Taha said, “Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the SARS-CoV-2 virus has claimed millions of lives and still continues to threaten many. As a member of OTRG, I have a great interest in nanotechnology, especially the development of nanodrug delivery systems. I believe that nanotechnology has many potential benefits to offer in the field of biomedical research, which can help us to combat this deadly virus, including the development of engineered nanoparticles for the efficient delivery of drugs, small therapeutic molecules, vaccine peptide antigens, and most importantly, anti-viral drugs to specific types of cells. In fact, millions of mRNA vaccines are delivered effectively using nanoparticles technology every day.”
The four-year DEFEND research project is supervised by Dr Laurence Fitzhenry (OTRG, SETU), Dr Orla O’Donovan (PMBRC, SETU) and Dr Gerald Barry (University College Dublin). Other collaborators include David Kent and Dr Isabel Cristina Aguiar De Sousa from the University of Beira Interior as project advisors.
Taha is currently working on the preparation and characterisation of the drug loaded nanomaterials. Once the formulation is complete, Taha will investigate the antiviral effect of the formulation against SARS-CoV-2. Cell culture studies involving SARS-CoV-2 virus will be carried out in Biosafety Level 3 Laboratories in UCD under the supervision of Dr Gerald Barry, who is a virology and infectious disease expert, while the formulation will take place in SETU Waterford.
Leading International Vaccinology Education program
Taha who is originally from Konya, Turkey, has a degree in genetics and bioengineering from the International University of Sarajevo. In 2018, he was awarded a full scholarship by the European Commission to pursue a master’s degree in the Leading International Vaccinology Education program (LIVE). Taha’s previous work included the development of safe and functional HIV vaccines by use of biodegradable nanoparticles and liposomes.