Nanomaterials could be key to fighting airborne biothreat

Nanomaterials developed at Montana State University could be used in the future to fight respiratory infections created by bioattacks, scientists have said.

The nanomaterials, which have already been proven to work in mice, are ingested through an inhaled aerosol spray that contains small protein cages. The protein cages then activate an immune response in the lungs that lasts for over a month and is good against any respiratory virus.

"It's like having a fire department at your house before the fire. If a fire starts, you don't have to call them and wait for them to arrive. They are already there," Jim Wiley, an assistant research professor in the Department of Veterinary Molecular Biology in MSU's College of Agriculture, told

The protein cages also mean that citizens wouldn't need to wait for scientists to analyze, develop, distribute and administer vaccines for emerging viruses.

"You would be able to prepare an entire population for an imminent respiratory viral infection, like the swine influenza infections that we just experienced," Wiley said.

Research on the protein cages has been ongoing for more than two years and, following a recent National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases grant for $275,000, the project is expected to continue for at least another two years. The grant came as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.