A way to treat viral diseases, including the flu and common cold, has been discovered by scientists in an international project led by Australian researchers.
Up until now, there has been no real treatment other than rest and fluids, and giving the body some time to fight off the virus.
New research shows the answer may lie in a protein which suppresses the body’s key antiviral reaction, and the creation of drug to allow the body to use this natural protection.
Each year the flu virus sends 13,500 Australians to hospital and causes more than 3000 deaths, mainly among those aged 50 or older. Globally there are more than 5 million cases a year with up to 10% dying.
The results of the breakthrough are published today in the scientific and medical journal Nature Communications.
RMIT scientists Dr Stavros Selemidis and Dr Eunice To collaborated with Professor Doug Brooks from University South Australia, Professor John O’Leary from Trinity College Dublin, Monash University’s Professor Christopher Porter, and other scientists and clinicians.
The researchers discovered that a 1.5 billion-year-old cell biological process found in plants, fungi and mammals enhances viral disease in mice and highly likely also in humans.
They identified a protein, Nox2 oxidase, that is activated by viruses, including influenza, the common cold, dengue and HIV.
When activated, Nox2 oxidase suppresses the body’s key antiviral reaction and its ability to clear the viral infection.
The researchers found that the Nox2 oxidase protein activated by the viruses is located in a cell compartment called endosomes. They used a modified a chemical that inhibits or restrains the activity of Nox2 oxidase.
And this customised drug was found to be successful in suppressing disease caused by flu infection.
“We have identified a protein of the immune system that contributes to the disease caused by flu viruses irrespective of their strain, ” says Selemidis, head of the Oxidant and Inflammation Biology Group within the Chronic Infectious and Inflammatory Diseases program at RMIT.
“We also developed a novel drug delivery system to target this protein, which drastically alleviated the burden of viral disease.”
The research was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia and the Australian Research Council.