Fighting the Flu

Published May 24, 2010

An MD/PhD candidate has teamed up with UB faculty and scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on research that aims to defeat the flu and other viruses without vaccines.

Krishnan Chakravarthy is lead author on a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that describes how pandemics of drug-resistant viruses may be thwarted by a potent, immune-boosting payload delivered to cells by gold nanorods.

“The novelty of this approach is that most of these kinds of RNA viruses share a common host-response immune pathway,” Chakravarthy explains. “That is what we have targeted with our nanoparticle therapy. By enhancing the host immune response, we avoid the difficulty of ongoing viral resistance generated through mutations.”

The collaboration between UB and CDC came together through the work of Chakravarthy, who in 2009 won a coveted spot in the CDC’s Guest Researcher Program. The research constitutes part of his doctoral degree work, which focused on host response to influenza infection and novel drug delivery strategies.

The paper in PNAS describes the single strand RNA molecule, which prompts a strong immune response against the influenza virus by ramping up the host’s cellular production of interferons, proteins that inhibit viral replication.

Most RNA molecules are unstable when delivered into cells; the gold nanorods produced at UB, however, act as an efficient vehicle to deliver into cells the powerful immune activator molecule.

 “The gold nanorods protect the RNA from degrading once inside cells, while allowing for more selected targeting of cells,” says co-author Paul R. Knight III, MD, PhD, Chakravarthy’s thesis advisor and director of UB’s MD/PhD program.

Launching a nanotech company

In addition to his research, Chakravarthy recently founded NanoAxis, a nanotechnology company that looks to take advances in that field and apply them to drug and gene delivery and to customized medical devices.

“Our long-term goal is to be a leader in integrating nanotechnology into the art of medicine and to build a company that can be a foundation for jobs and economic development in Western New York,” he says.

Knight, who serves on NanoAxis’ scientific board, is impressed with Chakravarthy’s initiative.

“I don’t know of too many MD/PhD students who have begun start-up companies. Krishnan is highly unusual in that regard. He is a very intelligent, creative individual who has incredible energy. He and his group are doing cutting-edge work with NanoAxis. It’s very exciting.”