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Molecular imaging may lead to earlier diagnosis of childhood respiratory virus

Scientists have used a powerful molecular imaging technique to see inside living cells infected with the most pervasive and potentially fatal childhood respiratory virus known to medicine -- respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). The technique is yielding insight on viruses such as RSV, human influenza, hepatitis C, West Nile virus and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) -- that replicate with the help of proteins encoded by ribonucleic acid (RNA) inside the cell. Ultimately, the research could to lead to early and rapid detection of viral infection and the design of new antiviral drugs.

Scientists and engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Georgia are studying bovine and human RSV with molecular-scale probes called molecular beacons that are engineered oligonucleotides (short sequences of RNA or DNA) shaped like a hairpin with a fluorescent dye molecule on one end and a quencher molecule on the other end. They are designed to fluoresce only when they bind to a complementary target in this case, RSV genomic RNA.

"For the first time, we were able to visualize an important part of the RSV virus -- its genome -- in live, infected cells," said Phil Santangelo, a research engineer in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. "Our molecular beacons attach to the virus and glow inside infected cells as the virus grows, replicates and infects other cells. We can now see that happen in real time in cultures in the lab.

"That's very different from how scientists have studied viruses in past; they've looked at viruses in fixed (or preserved) cells," he added. ". Within the first week of studying human RSV in living cells, I learned something new because I was looking at it live."

Molecular beacons were originally developed at the Public Health Research Institute in New Jersey in the late 1990s. They were initially used for in vitro assays o
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Contact: Jane Sanders
jsanders@gatech.edu
404-894-2214
Georgia Institute of Technology Research News
18-Apr-2006


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