Researchers Develop Buckyballs to Fight Allergy
Sathya Achia Abraham
University Public Affairs
Video Clip 1: "We hope to tune these nanoparticles into usable therapeutics"
Audio Clip 1 (.WAV format)
Video Clip 2: "Diabetes, asthma, arthritis also
may be targets for treatment"
Audio Clip 2 (.WAV format)
A research team has identified a new biological function
for a soccer ball-shaped nanoparticle called a buckyball – the
ability to block allergic response, setting the stage for the development of new therapies for
disease is the sixth leading cause of chronic disease in the United States, and while various treatments have
been developed to control allergy, no cure has been found. These findings advance the
emerging field of
medicine known as nanoimmunology.
from Virginia Commonwealth University and Luna Innovations Inc., a
private, Roanoke, Va., research company, are the first to show that buckyballs are able to
block allergic response in human cell culture experiments.
or fullerenes, are nanoparticles containing 60 carbon atoms. Due to their
unique structure, inertness and stability, researchers from a number of scientific
fields have been investigating the tiny, hollow carbon cages to serve a variety
of functions. In this study, researchers modified the buckyballs so that they
were compatible with water. The new study findings were published online in the June 19 issue of the Journal
of Immunology and will appear in the July 1 print issue of the journal.
discovery is exciting because it points to the possibility that these novel
materials can one day lead to new therapies," said Chris Kepley, Ph.D., M.B.A.,
assistant professor in the Department of Internal Medicine, Division of
Rheumatology, Allergy and Immunology at the VCU School of Medicine.
"Researchers in many fields are aware of the
potential fullerenes have, however, we are the first to show they can turn off
the allergic response and basic immune reactions," he said.
to Kepley, who is the principal author of the paper, the
buckyballs are able to 'interrupt' the allergy/immune response by inhibiting a
basic process in the cell that leads to the release of an allergic mediator.
Essentially, the buckyballs are able to prevent mast cells from releasing
are responsible for causing allergic response and are packed with granules containing
histamine. They are present in nearly all tissues except blood. When mast cells
are activated, inflammatory substances such as histamine, heparin and a number
of cytokines are rapidly released into the tissues and blood, promoting an
The researchers found that the unique structure of
the buckyball enables it to bind to free radicals dramatically better than any
anti-oxidant currently available, such as vitamin E. Free radicals are
molecules that cause oxidative stress, which experts believe may be the basis
immune system both protects us and causes harm, so we are always interested in
finding new pathways to help manage the harmful effects," said Kepley.
research was supported in part by grants from the National Institutes of Health
and the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network.
from VCU working with Kepley included: John J. Ryan, Ph.D., from the Department
of Biology; Wei Zhao, M.D., Ph.D., from the Department of Pediatrics; and Lawrence Schwartz, M.D., Ph.D., and Greg Gomez, Ph.D., from the Department of
- About VCU and the VCU Medical Center
Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 223 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Sixty-eight of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 13 schools and one college. MCV Hospitals and the health sciences schools of Virginia Commonwealth University comprise the VCU Medical Center, one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers. For more, see www.vcu.edu.