Flu-Fighting Synthetic Protein Developed
May 28, 2012

Flu-Fighting Synthetic Protein Developed

A team of US researchers announced on Sunday that they have developed a new protein that they say can be a vital tool in the battle against global influenza epidemics.

Their research, which is detailed in the latest edition of the journal Nature Biotechnology, shows how scientists can use manufactured genes as antivirals that can block some functions of the flu virus.

"Our most potent design has proven effective on the vulnerable sites on many pandemic influenza viruses, including several H1N1 (Spanish flu, Swine flu) and H5N1 (Avian flu) subtypes," Tim Whitehead, assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science at Michigan State University and co-lead author of the paper, said in a statement. "These new therapeutics are urgently needed, so we were especially pleased to see that it neutralizes H1N1 viruses with potency."

Whitehead and his colleagues used computer-aided design in order to engineer these proteins, which target vulnerable areas on the same types of highly-adaptable influenza viruses that have been responsible for pandemics and epidemics in recent years.

They then optimized those proteins by mapping them with mutations that made them stronger when doing battle against those so-called weak spots, and improved them through a process known as DNA deep sequencing which allowed them to simultaneously sequence millions of variants of those artificial antivirals, keep the most beneficial alterations, and effectively optimize the performance of the manufactures proteins.

"By taking only the best mutations, we can reprogram our proteins to burrow into viruses at key locations and render them harmless," Whitehead said, noting that the research could be used not just as a foundation for future flu treatments, but for other diseases such as smallpox.

"Our work demonstrates a new approach to construct therapeutic proteins, which we hope will spur development of new protein drugs by the biopharmaceutical industry," he added.

Along with Whitehead, researchers from the University of Washington, the Scripps Research Institute, the Naval Health Research Center (NHRC), and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel were involved in the study.

Their work was funded by the Defense Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS).