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

April 24, 2014
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

Google searches can be used to track dengue in underdeveloped countries

July 20, 2017
An analytical tool that combines Google search data with government-provided clinical data can quickly and accurately track dengue fever in less-developed countries, according to new research published in PLOS Computational ...

MRSA emerged years before methicillin was even discovered

July 19, 2017
Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) emerged long before the introduction of the antibiotic methicillin into clinical practice, according to a study published in the open access journal Genome Biology. It was ...

New test distinguishes Zika from similar viral infections

July 18, 2017
A new test is the best-to-date in differentiating Zika virus infections from infections caused by similar viruses. The antibody-based assay, developed by researchers at UC Berkeley and Humabs BioMed, a private biotechnology ...

'Superbugs' study reveals complex picture of E. coli bloodstream infections

July 18, 2017
The first large-scale genetic study of Escherichia coli (E. coli) cultured from patients with bloodstream infections in England showed that drug resistant 'superbugs' are not always out-competing other strains. Research by ...

Ebola virus can persist in monkeys that survived disease, even after symptoms disappear

July 17, 2017
Ebola virus infection can be detected in rhesus monkeys that survive the disease and no longer show symptoms, according to research published by Army scientists in today's online edition of the journal Nature Microbiology. ...

Mountain gorillas have herpes virus similar to that found in humans

July 13, 2017
Scientists from the University of California, Davis, have detected a herpes virus in wild mountain gorillas that is very similar to the Epstein-Barr virus in humans, according to a study published today in the journal Scientific ...

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.