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New x-ray technique could boost HIV treatment

Monday 9th March 2015
Advancement in x-ray imaging could lead to better and more accurate treatment for conditions like HIV and influenza. Image Credit: DragonImages
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There have been numerous advancements in x-ray imaging since it was first invented, now a team of international scientists have used it to reconstruct viruses. This could enable far more sophisticated therapies, designed to attack specific parts of the virus or bacteria.

Researchers found that the intense beam of Stanford's Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS), which was the first ever hard x-ray free-electron laser (XFEL), is able to demonstrate that it's possible to reconstruct the 3D structure of a virus particle without the need of a crystal. This marks a significant achievement for radiography.

For years, 2D images have been achievable, but scientists struggled when it came to creating 3D images of single biological particles like viruses. For two-dimensional images, they just needed to record the patterns of diffraction that occurred when pulses of ultrabright x-ray light travelled through the particle. This gave them an image of the molecule or organism, but this was impossible with 3D images.

However, the team at the National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, California, found a way to navigate this problem. They were able to extract information about a particle’s orientation from a 2D diffraction pattern, which allowed them to create a useful 3D image. This gave them details about the external shape and internal structure of the particle.

Published in Physical Review Letters, the researchers tested their novel technique using a mimivirus. However, they say the method could be used for far more dangerous viruses like influenza, herpes, and HIV.

The work marks an important step towards more sophisticated treatments by creating a clear picture of non-crystallisable biomolecules. This demonstrates that it is possible to gather comprehensive data from hundreds of individual samples and assemble it into a complete diffraction pattern.

This same approach could be used for various other fields of medicine, to help improve their current knowledge.

Written by Mathew Horton

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