"We are delighted to honor Professor Swartz with the Gaden Award this year," says journal Editor Douglas S. Clark, a chemical engineering professor at the University of California-Berkeley. "His paper has been recognized by all of the editors for its originality and likely impact."
Versatile viral spheres
At the ACS session where Swartz receives the award he also will present one of the most recent innovations in his lab, the cell-free production of engineered viral capsids. The capsids are based on the outer shell of a naturally occurring virus that infects E. coli bacteria. They are formed when 180 copies of the same protein assemble into a nanoscale soccer ball.
"We think these little spheres, 27 nanometers in diameter, will form the basis for a new class of pharmaceuticals and a new class of materials," Swartz says. "For example, to date we've been seriously limited in our ability to both produce and to modify capsids to turn them into effective vaccines."
But now researchers in Swartz's lab, principally doctoral students Brad Bundy, supported by a Stanford Graduate Fellowship, and Aaron Goerke,supported by Merck & Co., Inc., have not only produced capsids cell-free for the first time, but also have attached uniquely reactive amino acids to the capsid surfaces.
Theamino acids allow the capsids to either stick to and carry specific proteins orstick to other capsids, allowing their assembly en masse. The tiny spheres could therefore transport targeted vaccines or medicines around the bloodstream or could be linked together in different configurations to make novel materials. Materials from assembled capsids could be light, strong and biodegradable, Swartz says.
Piggybacking vaccines on capsids may provide safer and more effective vaccinations than current methods, Swartz says. Most vaccines today work by introducing dead or weakened copies of viruses, mix