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chemistry and molecular biologynatural sciences

Researchers look to saccharides for a breakthrough in the battle against coronavirus

Professor Rando Tuvikene. Photo Credit: Tallinn University
Professor Rando Tuvikene. Photo Credit: Tallinn University
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Professor of Biopolymer Chemistry at the School of Natural Sciences and Health of Tallinn University Rando Tuvikene, with the support of the Estonian Research Council, will begin his research into saccharides found in microorganisms and marine biomasses to find potent preparations that could help limit the spread of coronavirus.

Identifying potential substances and preparations that deactivate viruses and studying their applicability in products is a necessary step in stopping the spread of SARS-CoV-2, more commonly known as the coronavirus. Many bacterial saccharides and also those found in sea biomasses have antiviral properties.

“It is generally known which structure a potential molecule must have in order to be effective against deactivating viruses. These include polysaccharides containing sulphate groups, which can be found in seaweeds” says Professor Rando Tuvikene. He adds that some of these types of molecules are capable of deactivating HIV, herpes simplex and swine flu viruses.

The project ‘Antiviral Saccharides: Applications in Disinfectants, Cosmetics and Pharmaceutical Formulations’ will focus on finding poly- and oligosaccharides effective against SARS-CoV-2 (including fructans, sulphated galactans, fucans, glucans) and connections between the structure of preparates and their antiviral potency.

According to Rando Tuvikene, the first phase will consist of screening the saccharides with potential antiviral properties and moving forward with the most potent preparations, which will be tested in the second phase in disinfectants and cosmetics. The researchers will involve over 60 preparations in the first screening of the study.

Disinfectants currently available on the market are effective against destroying the virus; however, according to the Tallinn University professor, this effect is short-lived. With his partners, Tuvikene hopes to find preparates that leave a protective coating on the skin that would act as a long-term protection against viruses.

Currently, much of the research done on SARS-CoV-2 is novel, as we do not yet know much about the virus. “Most of the saccharides in our research have never been tested on this virus. This may be a great breakthrough in both science and application, i.e. helping us stop the spread of SARS-CoV-2.”

The testing of preparations is planned to take place in a laboratory of the University of Tartu with a safety class of BSL-3 and work is planned to start in the beginning of next year. This is among the few laboratories in Estonia that can be used to conduct tests on living strains of SARS-CoV-2.

The project ‘Antiviral Saccharides: Applications in Disinfectants, Cosmetics and Pharmaceutical Formulations’ will take place from 1 October 2020 until 31 December 2021. It will be funded by the Estonian Research Council (ETAg) with 200,000 euros. The project is led by Professor of Biopolymeric Chemistry at the School of Natural Sciences and Health of Tallinn University Rando Tuvikene. In addition to scientists from Tallinn University, the team will include virologists and researchers of polysaccharides from the University of Tartu and chemists from the National Institute of Chemical Physics and Biophysics (NICPB). In addition to representatives of the scientific side, partners from the private sector are included, such as Chemi-Pharm AS, Vipis OÜ and Furcella OÜ.

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