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Antibodies form new flu treatment

23rd February 2009

Researchers in the United States have found a way to attack a range of influenza viruses using monoclonal antibodies found in humans.


The National Institutes of Health funded the study and has patented the work.

Monoclonal antibodies are a type of antibody that only attacks a specific target, used widely in the treatment of cancer.

Using a database of immune system proteins generated from US research on 57 volunteers, researchers found antibodies that acted as an effective vaccine against H5N1 bird flu, as well as other strains of the disease.

The treatment could save lives in the event of a flu pandemic.

At present, the antibodies have only been tested on mice, but they protected the mice from a lethal dose of avian flu.

Robert Liddington said that the research team was surprised to find that these antibodies neutralised most other influenza viruses, including seasonal flu.

Influenza is hard to fight because two proteins - neuraminidase and haemagglutinin - coat the virus and constantly mutate.

The designations of viruses, for example, H5N1, owe their names to the initials of these two proteins, since subtle differences in their arrangements distinguish different strains.

Vaccines and other flu drugs have targeted these lollipop-shaped proteins.

Vaccines target haemagglutinin and need to be reformulated every year, and viruses develop resistance to drugs targeting neuraminidase.

In the NIH study, antibodies revealed an entirely new route to fighting the disease, attaching themselves to part of the viral structure that does not mutate.

Liddington said that this part of the virus forms part of a complex molecular machinery with many moving parts, and that all the parts must work perfectly together if the virus is to enter the cell and establish an infection.

Using atomic imagery, the researchers found that the antibodies stop the progress of the virus by jamming its complex machinery.

Researchers are now concerned with the task of engineering or finding other antibodies to neutralise other strains of flu.

Ruben Donis of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that even when the research team tried to select viruses that were resistant to the activity of antibodies, these failed to survive under the pressure of the new treatment.

Wayne Marasco said that the new flu treatment provides durable immunity, and that a comprehensive treatment will soon be under development.

He said that although monoclonal antibodies are usually a very expensive way of treating cancer, companies have recently discovered a cheaper way to manufacture them.

Though the antibodies came from human sources, it is unclear how many people have them in their bodies.


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Article Information

Title: Antibodies form new flu treatment
Author: Luisetta Mudie
Article Id: 10314
Date Added: 23rd Feb 2009


New York Times

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