As public health officials around the world keep a nervous eye on the spread of avian influenza, the University of Saskatchewan's Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) has uncovered a key step in how the influenza virus causes infection.
Yan Zhou and her team have discovered how a crucial pathway that supports the influenza A virus's ability to reproduce itself is activated, a finding that could pave the way for new drugs and vaccines.
The paper will appear in the January 2007 issue of the Journal of General Virology and recently has been given advance on-line publication.
"The work we are doing will be applicable to all influenza viruses, including influenza A virus subtype H5N1," said VIDO Director Lorne Babiuk.
Zhou says that although years of research remain to be done, this work provides novel insights for developing live vaccines and antiviral drugs for influenza epidemics and pandemics. A provisional patent has been filed on the findings.
"Given the health, economic and social consequences of influenza epidemics, the work of Dr. Zhou and her team demonstrates the importance of building influenza research capacity in Canada," said Dr. Bhagirath Singh, Scientific Director of the CIHR Institute of Infection and Immunity.
"Their research findings may help to develop new influenza treatments and prevent the disease, as well as add to global pandemic preparedness research."
To survive, the influenza virus hijacks the host animal or human's cellular machinery and forces it to make more copies of the virus. The researchers believe that the cellular events involved in this process are an excellent target for interventions against influenza.
The study revealed novel characteristics of a protein, called NS1, that activates a key pathway in the virus's reproduction. This information will help the researchers learn how to create harmless influenza viruses that can be used a
Contact: Marie-France Poirier
Canadian Institutes of Health Research