Reconstructed 1918 flu virus providing insights for potential pandemics

For the first time, this deadly 1918 Spanish flue virus has been reconstructed and characterized. This research, reported in this week's issue of Science, is part of a larger research initiative being led by Adolfo Garcia-Sastre, PhD, Professor of Microbiology and Peter Palese, PhD, Professor and Chairman of Microbiology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Their goal is to gain a greater understanding of this virus in order to use this knowledge to predict future pandemics and develop novel vaccines and treatments.

Drs. Garcia-Sastre and Palese and Christopher Basler, PhD, Assistant Professor of Microbiology worked with colleagues at the Centers for Disease Control, the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Maryland and The United States Department of Agriculture to characterize the 1918 virus. The reconstructed virus is contained at the CDC, following stringent safety conditions designated for flu viruses and other "select agents."

The virus was reconstructed using reverse genetics, a technique Drs. Garcia-Sastre and Palese developed. (See below for a description of the reverse genetics technique, which is being widely used in research to develop vaccines for a potential pandemic.)

The emergence of another pandemic is considered highly likely by many experts, but it is currently not possible to predict which viruses will become pandemics or how virulent a pandemic virus will be. Understanding the Spanish flu, the most virulent and deadly pandemic in recent history, may provide the information needed to anticipate which flu viruses have the potential to cause pandemics, determine in advance how virulent the virus is, and develop vaccines and treatments to prevent the potential devastation of a pandemic.

Three major discoveries about the virulence of the 1918 virus are included in the Science report:

  • 1) It is extremely virulent in mice, leading to rapid death.
  • 2) It is pathogenic in embryonated chicken eggs

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Contact: Debra Kaplan
The Mount Sinai Hospital / Mount Sinai School of Medicine

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