New way to block pox shows promise in lab study

Acute viral infections, including smallpox, may be halted by aiming a drug not at the virus but at the cellular machinery it needs to spread from cell to cell--an approach that might eliminate the problem of antiviral drug resistance, report researchers supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The scientists say their finding, made using lab-grown monkey kidney cells and a mouse model of smallpox infection, turns the usual approach to fighting viral infections on its head. By developing drugs targeted to the unchanging chemical pathways used in normal cell processes and co-opted by viruses, the investigators say it might be possible to battle acute viral infections in a way that prevents the virus from mutating its way around a drug attack.

"The threat of smallpox virus being used as a bioterror weapon makes it imperative that we pursue not only improved vaccines to prevent the disease, but also novel therapeutic strategies such as this that could be employed quickly in the event of a deliberate release of the virus," says NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D.

Senior author Ellis L. Reinherz, M.D., of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI), and colleagues at DFCI, the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published their study in the February issue of The Journal of Clinical Investigation. The portion of the research using smallpox virus was conducted at the CDC in highest level biosafety laboratories.

"This is noteworthy research. It shows that it is possible to block temporarily a cell signaling pathway and thereby inhibit activity of a virus," says NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D.

Current antiviral drugs target the virus itself. "In contrast, our approach short-circuits a cellular chemical pathway, making it unavailable to the virus and thus hindering the virus' ability to sprea

Contact: Anne A. Oplinger
NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

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