New treatment could 'protect against any strain of the flu'

April 24, 2014, University of St Andrews
The new biologic (green) binding to the surface of cells (blue nuclei), protecting the cells from invasion by the influenza virus.

(Medical Xpress)—Scots scientists have developed a novel treatment that could protect against any strain of the flu.

It is hoped that the new development, led by researchers at the University of St Andrews, has the potential to guard against current, future and even pandemic strains of the virus.

In an international effort, the scientists involved say that the preventative treatment could be used as a 'frontline defence' before an effective flu vaccine is developed. Leading influenza experts say the new development is 'very exciting and potentially of great importance in this era'.

The BBSRC and MRC-funded research was led by Professor Garry Taylor and Dr Helen Connaris in the Biomedical Sciences Research Complex at St Andrews. They said "We have developed an alternative host-targeted approach to prevent influenza by synthesising novel proteins, or biologics, that are designed to mask specific sugar molecules that line the respiratory tract.

"The , and indeed other respiratory pathogens, needs to bind to these sugars to gain entry to our cells to start the infection process."

The novel method was tested in mice by collaborators at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh and at St Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis. These studies showed that a single intranasal dose completely protects mice even when given 7 days before a lethal challenge with the pandemic 2009 H1N1 virus. As well as surviving, the mice develop antibodies against the virus suggesting that they are "vaccinated" against any future exposure to the virus.

One of the authors of the study, Dr Robert Webster, Rose Marie Thomas Chair of Virology at St Jude, is one of the world's foremost experts on influenza. He said, "The work is very exciting and potentially of great importance in this era of emerging viruses like H7N9 that have pandemic potential."

Influenza remains a constant worldwide health threat with annual epidemics claiming up to 500,000 lives each year according to the World Health Organisation. The emergence of new strains from birds in recent years has revealed the remarkable ability of the virus to cross species barriers and to pose pandemic health threats.

While vaccines are the cornerstone of prevention, these are not always effective and take time to develop in quantities needed to treat whole populations. Antivirals are available, but the very recent Cochran report has highlighted the limited effectiveness of Tamiflu despite the UK government having spent almost £0.5 billion on stockpiling the drug.

Dr Connaris, a Senior Research Fellow at the University of St Andrews, said, "We anticipate our novel preventative approach being used as a frontline defense against new before an effective vaccine is developed, but the approach could also be used routinely against seasonal strains to protect health and care workers."

Professor Taylor, Professor of Molecular Biophysics at St Andrews, added, "The recent Cochran study revealing the limited effectiveness of Tamiflu which has been stockpiled by several governments at vast expense shows how new approaches are required.

"We believe that our approach has the potential to be used as a preventative against any current and new virus that emerges, such as H5N1, H7N9 and the very recent H10N8. Given that several other use the same entry route for infection, then our approach has a potentially broader application."

The study's authors are Helen Connaris, Lei Yang, Margaret Taylor, Sandra Tauber, Nadiawati Alias, Robert Hagan and Garry Taylor from St Andrews; Elena Govorkova and Robert Webster from St Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis; Yvonne Ligertwood, Bernadette Dutia and Tony Nash from The Roslin Institute, Edinburgh.

Explore further: Ginseng can treat and prevent influenza and RSV, researcher finds

More information: Helen Connaris, Elena A. Govorkova, Yvonne Ligertwood, Bernadette M. Dutia, Lei Yang, Sandra Tauber, Margaret A. Taylor, Nadiawati Alias, Robert Hagan, Anthony A. Nash, Robert G. Webster, and Garry L. Taylor. "Prevention of influenza by targeting host receptors using engineered proteins." PNAS 2014 ; published ahead of print April 14, 2014, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1404205111

Related Stories

Ginseng can treat and prevent influenza and RSV, researcher finds

April 21, 2014
Ginseng can help treat and prevent influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a respiratory virus that infects the lungs and breathing passages, according to research findings by a scientist in Georgia State University's ...

1950s pandemic influenza virus remains a health threat, particularly to those under 50

December 3, 2013
December 3, 2013) St. Jude Children's Research Hospital scientists have evidence that descendants of the H2N2 avian influenza A virus that killed millions worldwide in the 1950s still pose a threat to human health, particularly ...

New insight in quest for single vaccine against multiple influenza strains

October 20, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—A study led by St. Jude Children's Research Hospital scientists highlights a new approach for developing a universal influenza vaccine that could protect against multiple flu strains, including deadly pandemic ...

There's still time to get a flu shot

February 5, 2014
(HealthDay)—It's still not too late to get a flu shot, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday.

Study puts troubling traits of H7N9 avian flu virus on display

July 10, 2013
The emerging H7N9 avian influenza virus responsible for at least 37 deaths in China has qualities that could potentially spark a global outbreak of flu, according to a new study published today (July 10, 2013) in the journal ...

Insights into how a bird flu virus spreads could prevent pandemics

April 10, 2014
The H5N1 bird flu virus has infected and killed hundreds of people, despite the fact that, at the moment, the virus can't spread easily between people. The death toll could become much worse if the virus became airborne. ...

Recommended for you

Flu may be spread just by breathing, new study shows; coughing and sneezing not required

January 18, 2018
It is easier to spread the influenza virus (flu) than previously thought, according to a new University of Maryland-led study released today. People commonly believe that they can catch the flu by exposure to droplets from ...

New approach could help curtail hospitalizations due to influenza infection

January 18, 2018
More than 700,000 Americans were hospitalized due to illnesses associated with the seasonal flu during the 2014-15 flu season, according to federal estimates. A radical new approach to vaccine development at UCLA may help ...

Certain flu virus mutations may compensate for fitness costs of other mutations

January 18, 2018
Seasonal flu viruses continually undergo mutations that help them evade the human immune system, but some of these mutations can reduce a virus's potency. According to new research published in PLOS Pathogens, certain mutations ...

Zika virus damages placenta, which may explain malformed babies

January 18, 2018
Though the Zika virus is widely known for a recent outbreak that caused children to be born with microencephaly, or having a small head, and other malformations, scientists have struggled to explain how the virus affects ...

Study reveals how MRSA infection compromises lymphatic function

January 17, 2018
Infections of the skin or other soft tissues with the hard-to-treat MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) bacteria appear to permanently compromise the lymphatic system, which is crucial to immune system function. ...

Fresh approach to tuberculosis vaccine offers better protection

January 17, 2018
A unique platform that resulted in a promising HIV vaccine has also led to a new, highly effective vaccine against tuberculosis that is moving toward testing in humans.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

bearly
not rated yet Apr 24, 2014
I hope this is a treatment that is not "buried" by the drug companies who love to sell us their version of a flu vaccine every year.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.