SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2016

Study shows ferrets mimic human response to influenza

Recent research in Australia on how ferrets and humans are similar has led to findings that could have major implications on new drug therapies and treatment plans.

Research published in Nature Communications is a collaboration between Professor Michael Jennings and other scientists and researchers from the Institute for Glycomics, Griffith University and collaborators at the University of Queensland and the University of Adelaide.

The findings discuss how ferrets share a mutation that was previously thought to be unique to humans, explaining why the molecular characteristics of ferrets so uniquely mimic human susceptibility, severity and transmission of the flu.

Jennings said the results of the research could potentially start a completely novel approach to treating human diseases from influenza to cancer.

"For over 80 years we've known that ferrets are uniquely susceptible to human influenza A virus, but the precise reason was unknown," Jennings said. "We have shown that ferrets have a mutation in a gene required to make a crucial sugar called sialic acid. Most animals can make two types of sialic acid. Ferrets, like humans, can make only one. Different flu strains have preferences for the type of sialic acid they bind to cause infection. Because ferrets can only make the human form of this sugar, they are naturally 'humanized' for the receptors recognized by human strains of the flu virus."