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Army-funded IU research could help contain spread of viruses like COVID-19

The US Army Research Office and the National Science Foundation are funding research at Indiana University Bloomington on how viruses assemble themselves, which could have implications for COVID-19 research as well as the development of drug delivery mechanisms.

Bogdan Dragnea, a Provost Professor of chemistry in the university's College of Arts and Sciences at the university, is a leading researcher in physical virology – the study of how viruses assemble themselves. Since his arrival at IU in 2001, Dragnea’s work has helped place IU Bloomington at the forefront of the physical virology field. Today, IU is a hub for some of the best researchers in the world in this area.

Understanding how viruses behave and developing ways to interfere with that behavior can yield great benefits, such as inhibiting a virus’s spread. Better understandings of how viruses assemble themselves may also allow scientists to figure out how viruses or virus-like capsules could be assembled to enter cells and deliver drugs.

With current funding from the Department of Defense US Army Research Office as well as the National Science Foundation, Dragnea and his laboratory team are working on constructing tiny super-radiant light sources based on virus particles. They have succeeded in “getting coherent light, just like a laser, out of a virus,” Dragnea explained, and are “on a good track” to develop the technology further. These super-radiant particles, far brighter than current state-of-the-art sources, could have important biomedical applications such as guiding microscopic surgery in the brain with much greater precision.

Dragnea’s work on super-radiant virus-like particles is new, only about two years old, but he’s long been a part of a number of important research collaborations investigating viruses, such as his study of processes involved in the self-assembly of HIV-1. With his IU physics colleague James Glazier and others, Dragnea holds two patents for enhanced biosensors that use light to more accurately detect a variety of things from hazardous wastes in air and water to viruses in blood and other body fluids.

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