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Blocking cell signaling can stymie viral infections, study shows

BOSTON In a finding that represents an entirely new approach to treating viral diseases such as smallpox, scientists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and collaborating institutions have shown that infections can be stymied by interfering with signals used by viruses to reproduce in human cells.

The results, reported in the February issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, point to a possible strategy for broadly treating acute viral infections that affect millions of people worldwide. If the technique leads to a drug capable of treating people infected with the smallpox virus, it could eliminate the virus' potential as a bioterror agent.

"Certain current anti-viral medications have a number of shortcomings that make them less than ideal for treating and/or preventing illnesses," says the study's senior author, Ellis Reinherz, MD, of Dana-Farber. "The existing vaccine against smallpox, for example, poses potential health risks that make it a questionable candidate for protecting the public against an outbreak of the disease. The approach we've taken is based on a new understanding of the basic mechanisms of viral reproduction and movement the actual steps that take place once a virus has invaded the body."

In the study, Reinherz and his colleagues at Dana-Farber (Hailin Yang, PhD, Mikyung Kim, PhD, and Pedro Reche, PhD), at the University of Massachusetts Medical School (Sung-Kwon Kim, PhD, and Raymond Welsh, PhD) and at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Tiara Morehead and Inger Damon, MD, PhD) used a "small molecule" drug already in development for some kinds of cancer to block a key signal in the cell machinery used by smallpox and similar viruses to propel themselves from infected cells and to reproduce in new cells. In laboratory samples of monkey kidney cells, the drug prevented the smallpox virus from spreading to other cells. In lab mice infected by a virus similar to the smallpox virus, a combination of t
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Contact: Bill Schaller
william_schaller@dfci.harvard.edu
617-632-5357
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
1-Feb-2005


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