MIT Researchers Use 'DNA Origami' to Create Vaccine Against HIV and More

The DNA structure MIT engineers created were coated with HIV proteins and brought out a strong immune response in cells.
Fabienne Lang

MIT researchers might have brought us one step closer to finding an HIV vaccine, but also a vaccine that could be used for a widespread number of viral diseases. 

The team folded DNA into virus-like structures that provoked a strong immune system response from human cells grown in the lab. These particles may prove useful for a future HIV vaccine

Their findings were published on Monday in Nature Nanotechnology.


DNA origami

The team's DNA particles, which were placed in a way that mimic virus structures, were coated with HIV proteins. These were arranged in a specific design, or "origami pattern" to create a strong response from the immune system.

The researchers are now working on adapting their structure to work for other viral diseases, such as SARS-CoV-2, with the hope that the vaccine structure could be used for a number of viral diseases. 

MIT Researchers Use 'DNA Origami' to Create Vaccine Against HIV and More
DNA origami, Source: Origamimonkey/Wikimedia Commons

"The rough design rules that are starting to come out of this work should be generically applicable across disease antigens and diseases," said Darrell Irvine, senior author of the study and an associate director of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.

"DNA origami" was invented in 2006 by Paul Rothemund at Caltech, and this structuring of DNA molecules has proven especially useful for drug delivery and other applications.

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"The DNA structure is like a pegboard where the antigens can be attached at any position," Mark Bathe explained, senior author of the study and MIT professor of biological engineering. "These virus-like particles have now enabled us to reveal fundamental molecular principles of immune cell recognition for the first time."

Bathe and Irvine's team's findings have the potential to guide HIV vaccine development. However, they are now working closely with the Ragon Institute to see whether their structure also works against the coronavirus.

"Our platform technology allows you to easily swap out different subunit antigens and peptides from different types of viruses to test whether they may potentially be functional as vaccines," Bathe said.

This could be a potentially useful method for future vaccines against a number of viral diseases.

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