Wednesday, February 06, 2008

A new way to kill viruses

"The capsid of a virus is something like the shell of a turtle," said physicist Otto Sankey of Arizona State University. "If the shell can be compromised [by mechanical vibrations], the virus can be inactivated."

Recent experimental evidence has shown that laser pulses tuned to the right frequency can kill certain viruses. However, locating these so-called resonant frequencies is a bit of trial and error.

To expedite this search, Sankey and his student Eric Dykeman have developed a way to calculate the vibrational motion of every atom in a virus shell. From this, they can determine the lowest resonant frequencies.

It is still a long way from using this to neutralize the viruses in infected people.

One challenge is that laser light cannot penetrate the skin very deeply. But Sankey imagines that a patient might be hooked up to a dialysis-like machine that cycles blood through a tube where it can be hit with a laser. Or perhaps, ultrasound can be used instead of lasers.

Moreover, it is unlikely that viruses will develop resistance to mechanical shaking, as they do to drugs.

"This is such a new field, and there are so few experiments, that the science has not yet had sufficient time to prove itself," Sankey said. "We remain hopeful but remain skeptical at the same time."

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