May 14, 2012

Studying Viruses: Wiping Out diseases

(Ivanhoe Newswire) — Changing medicine in the Lab! Scientists are looking at ways to help identify the severity of virus infections by looking at the way the cells change within that virus. This could bring much needed answers to diseases like influenza and Asthma in young children.

Researchers at the University of Leeds with the help of the Health Protection Agency Porton, investigated changes in lung cells infected with swine flu from the 2009 outbreak compared with seasonal flu.

"Diseases such as flu infect and hijack our cells, turning them into virus producing factories," Dr. Julian Hiscox, from the University of Leeds Faculty of Biological Sciences, was quoted as saying. "The infection causes the balance of proteins in a cell to change - some proteins are overproduced and others suppressed. Which proteins are affected and by how much varies depending on the type of virus, allowing us to identify a unique barcode of disease for each."

The team used a labeling technique called SILAC to measure and compare thousands of different proteins in a sample. Alongside the technique, they used mass spectrometry to identify the proteins most affected by viral infection and used these as molecular signatures to provide the 'barcode' of disease. They found swine flu affects the lungs in a similar way to seasonal flu.

"Using this test might have been a way to identify how lethal the 2009 swine flu pandemic was going to be, lessening worldwide panic," Dr. John Barr from the University of Leeds Faculty of Biological Sciences, was quoted as saying.

The group from Leeds also barcoded two types of HRSV, which can cause severe respiratory disease in young children.

"We have focused our work on common respiratory viruses, such as flu and HRSV, but this method could be applied to a wide variety of viruses, including tropical diseases that are prone to sudden outbreaks and can be lethal," Co-author Professor Miles Carroll of HPA Porton was quoted as saying.

The researchers say the next step is to test more lethal strains of flu, such as bird flu, to see how the barcodes differ.

"Flu virus frequently mutates, resulting in new strains which may be life-threatening and become pandemic," Dr. Barr added. "If we can test new strains using our method, we can determine their potential impact on health by comparing their barcode of disease to those of viruses already studied."

Source: Proteomics