Researchers from Imperial College London have learned how flu viruses are able to invade host cells and manipulate their machinery to spread throughout the body, which is a discovery that could help scientists create more efficient antiviral treatments for both the seasonal influenza as well as pandemics.
More than 800 million people around the world contract influenza infections each year.
This discovery, published in Nature journal, was made when scientists took hamster-chicken hybrid cells and infected them with avian influenza virus, commonly known as bird flu. Typically, this flu is unable to infect cells in mammals.
The study showed that ANP32A, a certain host protein within human cells, assists the virus as it replicates inside the cell. Only ANP32A with a certain mutation can help the bird flu infect the body.
"Up until now, we haven't understood why the bird flu virus has to change in order to hijack the human cell machinery,” Wendy Barclay, from Imprial's Department of Medicine and senior author of the study, said. “Our research showed this is all due to a cell protein called ANP32A."
In light of this, researchers can create drugs to specifically target ANP32A. This may stop the virus from replicating and spreading within the body.
"All human flu viruses in the world originally came from birds,” Barclay said. “However, luckily for us, viruses don't often jump from birds to people because the virus can't replicate in our cells. When they do transfer to humans, it's because the virus mutates in a number of ways. This enables it to gain a foothold inside the cell, and hijack the cell machinery to replicate.”