Yale University researchers have synthesized molecules that could help discover new methods of therapy for HIV and prostate cancer.

A team of researchers headed by assistant professor of chemistry David Spiegel has developed two molecules that can enhance the body’s immune response to HIV, HIV-infected cells and prostate cancer cells using the organism’s own antibodies. The results were published in two separate articles in the October and November issues of the online Journal of the American Chemical Society.

The two molecules bind antibodies already in the bloodstream to the pathogens. The body then flags the pathogens as threats, which triggers an immune response, starting the body’s fight against the disease.

Spiegel, who has a background in synthetic organic chemistry, said the research offers a new model for improving therapeutics that target these diseases and added that he hopes their findings can be applied to a wider range of diseases.

“This is an evolving paradigm in disease treatment and if we are able to implement this strategy in treating pathogenic illnesses, it could have a profound effect on public health,” he said.

HIV infection is a disease that gradually destroys the immune system and affects 33 million people worldwide. Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer among men in the United States, with about one in five men diagnosed with it.

Researcher Christopher Parker GRD ’13, who worked on synthesizing and designing the molecules and is the primary author of the published article, said the molecules could serve two functions: redirecting antibodies in the bloodstream to the HIV cells and blocking viral entry into uninfected cells.

The immediate next step for the project is to prove that the successful molecules, which have so far been tested in petri dishes, will also work in animals — a big obstacle — postdoctoral researcher Ryan Murelli said.

“In general, once you go into animals, it’s an entirely different situation, not nearly as controlled,” he said.

The idea was inspired in part by man-made antibodies — called monoclonal antibodies — first proposed in the beginning of the 20th century, that target specific pathogens, Murelli said.

But Murelli said though monoclonal antibodies have similar functions to the new molecules, they are more expensive and are more likely to be rejected by the body. And because the proteins degrade when taken orally, these antibodies would have to be injected into the patients. The new molecules can be adapted to pill form, which would help a wider range of people, Murelli said.

This research was funded by the National Institute of Health Director’s New Innovator Award, as well as by a Yale fund for new researchers.