Harvard University researchers might have struck gold in the fight against the flu epidemic. They have identified a man-made antibody that recognizes and neutralizes component of many conventional flu viruses.
Influenza virus remains a serious health threat, owing to its ability to evade immune surveillance through rapid genetic drift and reassortment, they have noted in an advance online edition of Nature Structural and Molecular Biology
The antibody they used was effective against all group 1 influenza viruses tested, including H5N1 'bird flu' and the H1N1 'Spanish flu,' scientists from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard University, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Burnham Institute for Medical Research said in their paper.
The antibody not only recognizes all these virus strains, it neutralizes them by interfering with the virus' ability to infect cells.
One of the discoverers, Dr. Wayne Marasco of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, says this so-called neutralizing antibody has two potential practical applications. "It lends itself to a therapy that can be used to prevent and treat a broad range of avian and seasonal influenzas," he says. That is, it may be possible to just inject the antibody into people who've just been infected by the bird flu virus or a conventional flu virus.
The second potential application is using the protein the antibody attacks as a vaccine. That protein sits in a pocket just beneath the virus' ever-changing coat. Used as a vaccine, it would train the body to recognize and attack flu viruses.
"I think this is a very important conceptual advance," says Anthony Fauci. He heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, an organization that partly funded the work. "Now we need to translate it into practicality."
The team of researchers who identified the antibody is already working on animal models to determine how the new information can be used, reports Joanne Silberner for NPR, a well-known alternative radio channel.