In a major new discovery that could help prevent or treat influenza, researchers have identified an antibody that blocks the flu virus from entering its hosts’ cells and that can be used to cure already infected animals. The findings were reported in the most recent edition of the
Before a virus can make us sick, it must first adsorb (bind) to the surface of our cells and then get its DNA or RNA into our cells. Influenza A viruses use a protein on their surface called Hemagglutinin to attach to their hosts’ cells. Hemagglutinin is abbreviated “H” and the particular variety of Hemagglutinin forms part of the strain’s name (e.g., H1N1 or H5N1). The “N” comes from an enzyme the virus produces called neuraminidase, which it uses to lyse (burst) its hosts’ cells in order to release newly formed virus particles.
The antibody discovered by lead author Ian Wilson (Scripps Research Institute) and colleagues at Scripps and Sea Lane Biotechnologies, binds to hemagglutinin thus preventing infection. This discovery may help in the development of more effective vaccines against the flu virus, which kills an average of 35,000 people per year in the U.S. alone. It could also help avert a deadly pandemic of avian influenza.
The research began by creating a library of antibodies from thousands of flu survivors from around the world by mining their bone marrow, which acts like a repository for all the antibodies they have ever made, the Bay Citizen reports. From this library, they were able to narrow their search to just the ones able to bind to influenza A. From this subset, they came upon the C05 antibody which protected cells growing in a Petri dish from influenza A infection. They also tried the experiment in vivo and found that C05 prevented mice from being infected. Furthermore, they discovered that mice already infected with a deadly strain of influenza were 100% cured when exposed to C05.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this research is that C05 binds to hemagglutinin, which is highly conserved genetically and used by many different strains to infect their hosts. Consequently, C05 is effective against several different varieties of influenza, including H1, H2, H3 and H9 strains. If C05 proves effective in preventing or treating human infections, this could be a major breakthrough, as we currently have little or no natural immunity to H9 strains and there is at least one highly pathogenic avian influenza H9 strain that has already wreaked havoc on some poultry flocks. This deadly strain could acquire person to person transmissibility through gene exchange with other flu viruses, as several H1 and H3 strains have already done, thus becoming the next deadly pandemic strain.