This webinar presents different aspects of why biophysics is important to progress toward the SDGs in fields such as human and animal health, agriculture or depollution
This session, titled “Biophysics for Global Health and Sustainability,” is organized by the International Union for Pure and Applied Biophysics (IUPAB), represented by Christina Sizun from the French Center for Scientific Research.
In her introduction, she explains that biophysics is a hybrid science that applies physics theories and methods to understand biological systems across various scales. Biophysicists collaborate with multiple fields such as chemistry, physics, engineering, mathematics, and computer science.
Biophysics originated in the mid-19th century when it was recognized that living systems follow universal rules. It has played a crucial role in developing tools like spectroscopy, microscopy, and computational modeling for structural biology. Modern biophysics also involves tracking single molecules, cells, and organs in real time, and multiscale modeling of organ systems.
Biophysics contributes to medical applications, including imaging technologies like MRI and CT scans, medical devices like pacemakers, biomaterials, nanobiotechnology for DNA sequencing and drug delivery, and environmental monitoring and energy generation.
In summary, biophysics quantifies biology, fosters interdisciplinary collaboration, develops innovative methods, and supports medical and environmental applications.
Then four presenters focus on specific topics
Using structural biology and biophysics to design rational malaria vaccines
Matthew Higgins, professor of molecular parasitology at the University of Oxford, UK
Structural biology and biophysics are being used to develop better malaria vaccines targeting the blood stage of the disease. Malaria remains a significant global health problem, causing numerous deaths and cases, particularly among children. Developing a malaria vaccine is crucial to combat the disease, but it’s challenging due to various factors. The blood stage of malaria involves complex processes, including red blood cell invasion by the malaria parasite, which is difficult to target through vaccination.
One challenge is that the machinery responsible for invasion is hidden within organelles, making it hard to detect by the immune system. Another issue is the parasite’s ability to switch between invasion proteins, evading the immune response. Additionally, the invasion process is rapid, requiring high concentrations of antibodies for effective protection.
Researchers have made progress by studying the RH5 protein, which plays a crucial role in invasion. They’ve determined the structure of RH5 and its binding partners. RH5 interacts with basogen, which forms membrane protein complexes on the surface of red blood cells. RH5 is part of a multi-component complex, and understanding its structure has provided insights into the invasion process.
To design better malaria vaccines, researchers have vaccinated volunteers with RH5-based vaccines and analyzed the quality of the antibodies produced. They found that antibodies with fast binding rates are more effective in preventing invasion. Crystallography has revealed how these antibodies bind to RH5.
To improve vaccine candidates, researchers have developed thermally stable variants of RH5 and truncated versions that focus on key antibody epitopes. These vaccine immunogens are undergoing clinical assessment.
From fundamental enzyme catalysis towards sustainable agriculture
Pimchai Chaiyen, professor of biochemistry, and dean of the School of Biomolecular Science in Rayong, Thailand
This presentation discusses research focused on enzymatic reactions, particularly in the context of enzymes and their mechanisms. The research has expanded into enzyme engineering, biocatalysis, synthetic biology, and metabolic engineering. The goal is to apply this knowledge to address various challenges, including supporting a circular economy and developing solutions for pesticide decontamination and detection.
The research involves studying the HadA monooxygenase enzyme, which can detoxify phenolic derivatives found in pesticides. The enzymatic process are explained and the potential applications are highlighted, for instance the synthesis of luciferin for bioluminescence-based pesticide detection. The research aims to provide solutions for pesticide-related issues, especially in developing countries, where pesticide poisoning is a significant concern among farmers.
The Lumos technology is also introduced : it enables sensitive pesticide detection through luminescence measurements, even in complex samples like urine or serum. The technology has practical applications in monitoring pesticide contamination in agriculture.
Overall, the research involves multidisciplinary collaboration and has the potential to address critical challenges related to pesticide contamination, detection, and sustainable agricultural practices.
Biophysics for better respiratory medecine
Jesus Perez-Gil, professor of biochemistry at Complutense University of Madrid in Spain
This presentation discusses the application of biophysics in designing respiratory medicines to address the challenges of maintaining a large lung surface exposed to the environment. It emphasizes the role of pulmonary surfactant, a substance that reduces surface tension in the lungs, making it easier to breathe. Surfactant is crucial for stabilizing the lung’s air-water interface and defending against pathogens. Without surfactant, a significant amount of metabolic energy would be required for breathing.
The importance of surfactant in premature infants’ lung development and the positive impact of exogenous surfactant therapy on their mortality rates is highlighted. Research is ongoing to improve surfactant materials, particularly for patients with lung injuries and inflammation, such as those with COVID-19-related lung damage.
The talk further explores how biophysics research is being applied to enhance drug delivery via inhalation. Surfactant is shown to promote the efficient delivery of drugs to deep lung regions, improving treatment outcomes. The presentation discusses in vitro models and experiments demonstrating the effectiveness of surfactant in drug delivery and gene therapy via inhalation.
In summary, the presentation underscores the critical role of surfactant in respiratory health, its applications in treating various lung pathologies, and its potential for improving drug delivery methods, all supported by biophysics research and interdisciplinary collaboration.
Getting prepared for the next big pandemic: is it possible? A biophysical perspective
Miguel Castano, Professor at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Lisbon in Portugal
This presentation emphasizes the importance of biophysics in preparing for future pandemics and controlling their impact, as demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic. It discusses the need for broad-spectrum antiviral drugs and how biophysics plays a crucial role in understanding virus biology and developing effective treatments.
The research that is presented focuses on a family of viruses carried by mosquitoes, including Zika and dengue. They aim to develop a broad-spectrum antiviral drug that can target these viruses, which are well-adapted to both mosquitoes and humans. The research involves molecular reasoning and the use of porphyrin molecules to disrupt the viruses’ envelopes.
The presentation highlights the challenges of addressing viruses that can cross the blood-brain barrier and affect the brain and fetal development, such as Zika. The speaker describes their efforts to develop molecules that can transport antiviral agents to these critical areas.
The presentation concludes by discussing in vitro and in vivo tests, potential industrial partnerships, and the role of biophysicists in pandemic preparedness and response.