U.S. researchers have discovered antiviral proteins in cells that naturally fight off influenza infections, a finding that may lead to better ways to make vaccines and protect people against the flu.This is a pretty exciting discovery given that up to 25% of the American population gets the flu in any one year, and that the H1N1 swine flu is considered the latest pandemic while the H5N1 variety is considered the riskiest of turning into a pandemic on a scale of the 1918 flu epidemic that killed millions worldwide.
They said a family of genes act as cell sentries that guard cells from an invading influenza virus, the team reported on Thursday in the journal Cell.
"This prevents the virus from even getting into the cell," said Stephen Elledge of Harvard Medical School and a Howard Hughes Investigator at Brigham & Women's Hospital.
"It is out there fighting the flu all of the time," Elledge said in a telephone interview.
Elledge and colleagues used a new research technique called RNA interference in which they systematically turned off individual genes and then exposed cells to the flu virus.
Using this method, they discovered a small family of flu-fighting proteins called interferon-indicible transmembrane proteins that boost the body's natural resistance to viral infection.
"If you get rid of it (the protein), the virus can replicate 5 to 10 times faster. What that means is your cells have a mechanism that can block 80 to 90 percent of the virus that gets in," Elledge said.
In fact, a specific protein may actually help fight off not only influenza, but West Nile Virus, dengue fever and even yellow fever.
Hopefully this research will pan out and lead to more effective vaccines and cures for these common scourges, particularly in the third world.