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Blocking cell signaling can stymie viral infections, study shows

he drug and a single antibody injection resulted in complete clearance of the lungs in just eight days.

"The results demonstrate the principle that viral diseases can be effectively fought by blocking cellular signaling pathways that viruses depend on for reproduction," Reinherz says. "We now have a model of an approach that can potentially be used to treat a wide array of acute viral conditions."

The study was funded by a grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), as part of an effort to strengthen the country's defenses against bioterrorism, and from the Dana Foundation.

Smallpox has been identified as a potential terror weapon because, with the suspension of universal vaccination against the virus in the 1970s, most Americans are thought to have little immunity to the often lethal disease. The NIAID grant supports research into the basic workings of the immune system, with the expectation that it will lead to new, more effective treatments and vaccines for possible bioterror agents.

Viruses reproduce by entering cells, insinuating themselves into the cells' division and transport machinery to make copies of themselves. Most existing anti-viral drugs consist of small molecules that bind to viruses, hindering the bugs' ability to enter cells or to multiply once inside. The problem with this approach is that viruses mutate rapidly, changing their genetic makeup in a way that often causes drugs to lose their effectiveness against them.

As for the smallpox vaccine, which raises a natural shield of immunity against infection, it poses potential risks to people with weakened immune systems either as a result of disease or treatment for cancer or with autoimmune disorders such as the skin condition eczema.

"The advantage of targeting signaling pathways is that cells, and the structures that send and receive signals, are far less likely to mutate than viruses themselves, making it im
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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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