SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2016

New discovery made in fight against the influenza virus

For the first time ever researchers have mapped how molecules regulate both the beginning and end of inflammation during a flu infection, which gives insight into how to prepare for the seasonal evolution of the virus.

The study was conducted by researchers at Seattle BioMed and collaborators at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital and the University of Washington. The study began to counter the extremely quick mutations of the influenza virus, which costs up to 50,000 lives a year. Vaccines are effective, but there is a chance the virus will mutate beyond the point at which the vaccine can counter the virus.

"Because of this, drugs are critically important to combat flu infections," Alan Aderem, principal investigator of the study, said. "But at the moment, we have very few drugs at our disposal, and resistance is already beginning to appear against our limited arsenal."

Aderem his team, including Vincent Tam, Oswald Quehenberger and Edward Dennis, wanted to understand how the bodily systems were affected by the infection. The team observed genes, proteins and lipids for the first time in reference to the influenza vaccine and found that severe cases of the flu override the body's natural method of controlling inflammation.

"It is absolutely crucial to confirm the relevance of these molecules in humans if we want to look for effective therapeutics against flu," Aderem said.

This information can play a key part in learning how to better control combat a flu infection by looking to inflammatory response. Severe strands, such as H5N1 and H7N9, claim the lives of roughly 60 percent of those infected. With the influenza virus's ability to mutate quickly, this discovery gives hope to those looking for new ways to get steps ahead of the virus.

"If we can perturb the balance between pro- and anti-inflammatory responses in flu patients, we can help them regulate their immune systems to control their infections," Tam said.