Ravi Kane, Ph.D.
Georgia Institute of Technology
Ravi Kane is a leading researcher at the intersection of biotech and nanotech, engineering new surfaces at the molecular level where the tiniest interactions have outsized effects. His team's major findings include breakthroughs in better-designed pharmaceuticals, delivery vectors for clinical gene therapy, and pathogenic coatings that kill bacteria on contact.
One of their most attention-grabbing projects has been an inhibitor drug that counteracts the effects of the toxin caused by anthrax. The novel approach underlying this drug is now informing their research on a host of other medicines.
The anthrax inhibitor drug is an example of “nanoscale polyvalent therapeutics,” one of Kane’s primary areas of investigation. In biological interactions, polyvalent molecules are more powerful than monovalent ones, because they have multiple binding areas. It’s like they’re grabbing onto the molecules around them with several hands instead of just one.
Kane and his team are exploring how to use this principle to create more potent pharmaceuticals. They’ve conducted key research on the structure and function of polyvalent molecules; identified the patterns and spacing of binding areas that make for the “stickiest” molecule; and determined whether these molecules are more or less effective when attached to a flexible polymer strand.
The anthrax toxin inhibitor developed by Kane and his colleagues was an important proof of concept. The team used its skills in protein engineering to design the “perfect” polyvalent molecule, one specifically designed to grab onto anthrax toxins and destroy them.
Typically, anthrax is lethal because by the time a victim begins to show symptoms, too much toxin has already built up in his or her body; and while antibiotics can cure the disease, they can’t remove the toxin. So Kane's toxin-destroying inhibitor someday could be life-saving.
Kane’s team is now applying the same concept to other research targets, including an HIV inhibitor, targeted drug delivery for Alzheimer’s and cancer, and new designs for vaccines.
Another promising discovery by Kane’s group is a nanoscale coating that kills bacteria on contact. This coating is based on an enzyme called “lysostaphin,” found in a non-pathogenic strain of Staph bacteria called Staphylococcus simulans. This enzyme can be used as an antimicrobial agent against the more harmful strain of Staph (Staphylococcus aureus), because when it attaches to those bacteria, it forms bonds that weaken the cell wall. Importantly, the coating is also effective against MRSA, the antibiotic-resistant strain of Staph aureus.
To create the microbial coating, Kane and his team attached the lysostaphin proteins to carbon nanotubes, tiny cylinders of carbon with diameters on the range of a thousand millionths of a meter. Being attached to the carbon nanotubes makes the enzyme more stable, so it can be mixed with a substance-like paint. In tests, this coating killed 100% of MRSA bacteria within 20 minutes of contact.
Now, Kane and his team are investigating similar formulations with alternate enzymes, which could be used to target different bacteria.
Nanoscale polyvalent therapeutics. Kane and his lab are exploring biological and clinical applications of polyvalent recognition, particularly with synthetic polyvalent molecules created from nanoscale scaffolds.
Optogenetics. Kane and his colleagues developed a new technique in this emerging field, which uses light to control cellular function. Their method uses blue light to enable rapid, reversible oligomerization of cellular proteins into nanoscale clusters. They demonstrated this approach by using it to activate the Wnt signaling pathway, which plays a significant role in cancer biology and stem cell biology.
Vaccines. Kane is collaborating with researchers at the Mt. Sinai Medical Center to investigate possible designs for a new universal flu vaccine, which would offer immunity against a broad range of influenza strains; their approach uses nanoscale scaffolds for antigen presentation.
Antimicrobial nanocomposite coatings. Kane’s team developed a coating to deactivate methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA), along with an in silico approach to identify other enzymes that could be deployed against bacterial pathogens, particularly C. difficile and S. aureus.
Straight from the Scholar
Georgia Tech is a fabulous engineering school. I’m excited by the scientific opportunities in Atlanta, especially potential collaborations with Emory and the CDC as well as my colleagues at Tech. There’s a vast amount of expertise here and it’s a very collaborative place, and the facilities on campus are outstanding.