Australian scientists have made a breakthrough in the fight against bird flu, by developing a safe technique to study the virus.
According to Griffith University's Professor Mark von Itzstein and his team at the Institute for Glycomics on the Gold Coast, their findings could help in cracking the deadly bird flu code.
Prof von Itzstein, who conducted the research in collaboration with an international project team at Hong Kong University's Institut Pasteur led by Professor Malik Peiris, says that the development will allow flu and drug specialists to study key surface proteins of the virus without risk of infection.
The scientists say that the risk is minimised through a method developed to insert the deadly bird flu's H5 protein into a safe vehicle called a 'virus-like particle'.
Prof von Itzstein said the reduced risk of spreading the infection would let the virus to be studied in more laboratories around the world, chiefly in countries not exposed to the disease at present.
"Importing, transporting and studying a highly-contagious live virus has always held some level of inherent risk for research staff, the wider community and agricultural economy," News.com.au quoted him, as saying.
"There are particularly strict regulations in a country such as Australia, in which the virus is not endemic.
"In the past this has restricted the ability of Australian researchers and those of any country in which a disease is not endemic, to base research programs within their own institutes," he added.
Prof von Itzstein further explained that the breakthrough could help to "crack the code" of the deadly H5N1 avian influenza virus.
"To better interrogate a virus protein, researchers need to be able to observe and monitor the way it functions when associated with a virus particle," he said.
"It's similar to the way it would be difficult to work out how a gun functions by only studying a bullet," he added.
He said that the H5N1 virus had developed to the point where it could be transmitted from birds to humans, with evidence growing that limited human-to-human transmission could also take place.
The study is published in the world's leading international chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition.