Notice: I've taken a part-time job, and it's definitely affecting my blogging time. I'll continue to add content here as often as possible. Pertinent guest posts are always welcome.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Vaccine for West Nile on the Horizon?

from a news release of the University of Queensland

Research conducted at The University of Queensland could contribute to the development of a vaccine and cure for West Nile virus and Dengue fever.

Led by Associate Professor Alexander Khromykh, a team of researchers from UQ's School of Molecular and Microbial Sciences identified a novel characteristic of the virus family to which these diseases belong.

This family, the flaviviruses, produces a small molecule. One of its functions is to control the response of the host to the viral infection. The molecule itself is part of the genetic material of the virus, and is labeled sfRNA.

The researchers stated that all flaviviruses tested thus far have contained the sfRNA. This means that targeting that specific part with an antiviral therapy may be effective for the whole range of flaviviruses.

By using reverse genetic engineering they were able to generate viruses that do not produce this sfRNA. The viruses that were missing the sfRNA were no longer able to kill their hosts or elicit disease symptoms. However, the engineered viruses did trigger the antiviral immune response in the host. This means that the body would create its own protection against all flaviviruses without contracting the disease.

These tests were conducted with mice. "The knowledge obtained from our studies with West Nile virus should be readily applicable for designing anti-viral drugs and engineering similar vaccine candidates for other medically important flaviviruses," said team leader Associate Professor Alexander Khromykh.

The study will be published in the December issue of the prestigious journal from Cell Press, Cell Host & Microbe.

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