Chemist Dr. Ievgen Donskyi plans to develop alternative to conventional antibiotics with his junior research group "PathoBlock"A new junior research group at Freie Universität Berlin, which will investigate the production of biodegradable antiviral and antibacterial materials, with one of the goals of synthesis being new alternatives to conventional antibiotics, will receive a total budget of more than 1.8 million euros from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) over the next five years. The "PathoBlock" research group is led by chemist Dr. Ievgen Donskyi at the Institute of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Freie Universtität Berlin, and includes scientists from the fields of chemistry, biology, veterinary medicine, and engineering. Its large collaborative network will feature Berlin institutes such as theBundesanstalt für Materialforschung und -prüfung (BAM) and industry partners such as Dendropharm GmbH and Beiersdorf AG. The project is receiving funding from the BMBF as part of the NanoMatFutur program for outstanding early-career researchers.
Guaranteeing a sufficient level of protection against pathogens, especially virus-related diseases, is one of the biggest problems faced by the healthcare system at present. "Millions of humans and animals have died in recent years because of virus-related pandemics. Bacterial skin and soft tissue infections are among the most common infections worldwide," says Donskyi. That is why he wants to investigative new inexpensive, efficient, and self-degrading nanomaterials together with the PathoBlock research team, with a view to exploring antiviral inhalative treatments and antibacterial skin lotions in the future.
These multifunctional broad-spectrum materials are effective against a number of viruses and bacteria and could therefore represent an alternative to treatments that involve antibiotics (which result in antimicrobial resistance when overused) and heavy metal complexes. Because heavy metal derivatives and antibiotics pollute the environment, new environmentally friendly and biodegradable agents that can effectively destroy pathogens are now in high demand.
"The pathogens are first trapped by electrostatic interactions and then destroyed by hydrophobic interactions in order to block pathogen replication," Donskyi says, explaining the process in greater detail. Many viruses such as herpes viruses, coronaviruses (including SARS-CoV-2), and African swine fever interact with heparan sulfate, a linear polysaccharide present on the surface of human and animal cells, in the first binding step. By using synthetic sulfated derivatives, the new materials should be able to block the interactions between viruses and these polysaccharides, preventing them from attaching to the surfaces.
"Within the project, it will be important to produce highly reproducible, scalable materials. Therefore, the use of advanced characterization methods such as X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) and time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (ToF-SIMS) will be of great importance," explains Donskyi. These methods allow an extremely precise analysis of surfaces and can be carried out at the new SupraFAB research building, which was recently opened at Freie Universität Berlin in 2022.
"The use of universal materials against pathogens will continue to grow in the future, as the Covid-19 pandemic has shown" adds Donskyi. This will also increase demand for new, sustainable synthesis strategies and functional materials. The scientists expect that innovative materials with pathogen-blocking properties will create a new areas of research in the field of pathogen inhibition.