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New protein may fight flu outbreak

May 28, 2012 - London

Researchers have come up with a new protein that can combat deadly flu epidemics.

According to Tim Whitehead, assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science at Michigan State University, the study demonstrates the ways to use manufactured genes as antivirals, which disable key functions of the flu virus.

"Our most potent design has proven effective on the vulnerable sites on many pandemic influenza viruses, including several H1N1 (Spanish flu, Swine flu) and H5N1 (Avian flu) subtypes," said Whitehead, the paper's co-lead author.

"These new therapeutics are urgently needed, so we were especially pleased to see that it neutralizes H1N1 viruses with potency," he said

From its previous research, the team used computer-aided design to engineer proteins that targeted vulnerable sites on the highly adaptable virus.

Then the researchers optimized their designer proteins by comprehensively mapping the mutations that gave the proteins a strong benefit when attacking the viruses' targeted areas.

The researchers improved their proteins through a process called "DNA deep sequencing."

This allowed Whitehead and his colleagues to simultaneously sequence millions of variants of their manufactured proteins, identify and keep the advantageous mutations and optimize the proteins' performance.

"By taking only the best mutations, we can reprogram our proteins to burrow into viruses at key locations and render them harmless," he said.

"Our work demonstrates a new approach to construct therapeutic proteins, which we hope will spur development of new protein drugs by the biopharmaceutical industry," said Whitehead

Speaking further Whitehead has insisted that the research also laid the groundwork for future treatments of all flu viruses as well as other diseases such as smallpox.

This story has been published in the Nature Biotechnology.


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