A Canadian high school student has won a national science competition for her new molecule that binds to flu viruses, which may eventually be used to diagnose or prevent flu infections.
Maria Merziotis, 17, took first prize in the 2008 Sanofi-Aventis BioTalent Challenge, and will now go on to compete at the international BioGENEius Challenge in San Diego June 16-18.
Meanwhile, Health Canada is testing her research, and as a diagnostic tool it has already shown "encouraging results," said the government agency in a statement.
Flu viruses cause illness by sticking to sialic acid (sialyllactose) present on the surface of human cells, and attacking the cells.
Merziotis synthesized a free floating form of sialic acid that acts as an alternative receptor for the virus.
She said it could be used "to detect what strain of influenza is responsible for a specific infection" or even "interfere with the infection process by administering the floating sialyllactose through injection, nasal spray or to the lungs with a pump."
"The flu virus would attach to the artificial receptor rather than the human cell and infection would be prevented," Merziotis said.