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15 июня 2017, 17:23

New Designer Protein Could Lead to Flu Cure


Every time the flu comes round, and every year we have to get shots or risk spending a week feeling like shit. It’s not really a big deal, but it’s definitely a pain. Or… at least it’s not a big deal to most people. Harmless as the flu may seem, it still kills hundreds of thousands of people each year and hospitalizes millions — often those with poor or weakened immune function.

While vaccines help, many can’t get them for medical reasons or, for those with the aforementioned poor immune function, may not even benefit from them. That’s not to mention that vaccines don’t even give complete strain coverage, either. So it would be great to have some weapon against the bug that’s better than Tamiflu.

With modern computing and chemical engineering techniques though, scientists have been able to design proteins from the ground up. If that sounds like an exciting new front in the war on disease, that’s because it is. And thanks to research like it, we may have stumbled onto one of the most powerful weapons against this perennial virus yet.

When the flu attacks a cell, it uses what amounts to microscopic grappling hooks to latch onto a target and close in. Back in 2011, a team of researchers led by David Baker at the University of Washington Seattle were able to create a protein that could interfere with that grappling hook mechanism. The problem, though, is that flu viruses often have guardian proteins protecting those hooks from interference.

Now, Baker and his team have engineered a new protein, based on that idea that can latch onto the grappling hooks’ heads and keep them from moving. Then, they spliced that into a bacterium so they could create billions of copies of the molecule for testing.

Once they had that down, they started testing their new chemical in mice. The drug was able to prevent infection if given either one day before or after exposure — a pretty lenient window, all told. And it’s likely that window will improve with time. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that this drug will lead to a cure in the immediate future. While this is a huge victory and it opens the path for a possible flu cure, the strains Baker’s team tested the drug on weren’t the same types that usually infect humans. So there would need to be a lot of fine-tuning, which will take years, at least.

In the near-term, the protein could very well serve as an early diagnostic tool, allowing doctors to quickly rule out whether someone has the flu or something more serious. A lot of really wicked stuff can masquerade as the flu, and misdiagnoses lead to thousands of deaths a year.

For now, though, I’m just glad we’re still making progress on fighting one of our most pernicious natural foes — influenza. Now if only we could kick cold’s ass… or cancer… That’s a toughie for sure. Though if CRISPR lives up to the hype, we may well have that licked too.

Source: https://www.geek.com/culture/new-designer-protein-could-lead-to-flu-cure-1703363/?source