Scientists have found that a harmless piece from a common childhood virus may help stop a biological process that kills a significant percentage of battlefield casualties, heart attack victims and oxygen-deprived newborns.
Researchers at Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters (CHKD) and Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS), in Norfolk, Virginia, have found that introducing the virus' shell in vitro shuts down what's known as the complement response, a primordial part of the immune system that attacks and destroys the organs and vascular lining of people who have been deprived of oxygen for prolonged periods.
While presenting their findings on Sunday at the 12th European meeting on complement in human disease in Budapest, Hungary, the researchers said that the complement response kicks in after the victim has been revived, in what is known as a reperfusion injury.
According to them, it does its work slowly but unrelentingly, killing soldiers, infants or heart attack victims over the course of days.
"To find a way to manipulate the complement system pharmacologically has been like a search for the Holy Grail," said one of the lead researchers, Dr. Kenji Cunnion, an infectious disease physician at CHKD and an associate professor of pediatrics at EVMS.
Cunnion and Dr. Neel Krishna, a pediatric virologist at CHKD and assistant professor of microbiology at EVMS, see clear military applications.
"The complement reaction is one of the major causes of death of the battlefield. By the time you get a victim to the hospital, it may be too late," said Krishna.
Agreeing to that statement, Dr. L.D. Britt, Brickhouse professor and chairman of surgery at EVMS, said: "Hemorrhagic shock is the leading cause of death in combat trauma and reperfusion injury plays a significant role both in increased mortality and increased brain damage."
The senior consultant to the military on combat trauma added: "This research could help save the lives of soldiers, as well as the lives of other trauma victims who have been without oxygen for extended periods."
Britt, Cunnion, and Krishna are now seeking a grant from the Department of Defense to expedite research and development.