Rice University scientists have won a $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to scrutinize the influenza A virus for clues that could lead to more effective antiviral drugs. Strains of influenza A include this year's pandemic H1N1 variety, some seasonal varieties and the much-feared H5N1 bird flu. Under the four-year program, biochemists in the laboratory of Rice's Jane Tao will continue their groundbreaking investigations into the form and function of nucleoprotein (NP), one of fewer than a dozen proteins encoded by the flu virus. All varieties of influenza A consist of variants of just eight genes -- encoded in RNA -- that produce 11 proteins. But for all its apparent simplicity, the disease behaves in complex ways that have stymied scientists for decades. For instance, when flu particles dock with healthy cells, they inject their genetic payload into the cell and hijack the cell's own machinery to make copies of themselves.
The specter of a drug-resistant form of the deadly H5N1 avian influenza is a nightmare to keep public health officials awake at night. Now, however, a study published this week (Dec. 21) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) suggests that a new compound, one on the threshold of final testing in humans, may be more potent and safer for treating " bird flu " than the antiviral drug best known by the trade name Tamiflu. Known as T-705, the compound even works several days after infection, according to Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a University of Wisconsin-Madison virologist and the senior author of the new PNAS study. "H5N1 virus is so pathogenic even Tamiflu doesn't protect all the infected animals, " explains Kawaoka, a professor of pathobiological sciences at the UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine and a world authority on influenza.
An article published Online First and in the December edition of The Lancet Infectious Diseases discusses the benefits and disadvantages of vaccination for children against seasonal flu. It reports that infection with "seasonal" influenza A could in fact benefit children by giving them improved immunity against pandemic strains such as the current swine flu H1N1 strain. Therefore, vaccinating children aged six months to five years against seasonal flu, as is recommended in some countries, could be disadvantageous to these children. The article discussing this controversial theory is the work of Dr Guus Rimmelzwaan, Erasmus Medical Center, Rotterdam, Netherlands, and colleagues. In an associated comment, Drs Terho Heikkinen and Ville Peltola, Turku University Hospital, Turku, Finland, disagree.
New methods of studying avian influenza strains and visually mapping their movement around the world will help scientists more quickly learn the behavior of the pandemic H1N1 flu virus, Ohio State University researchers say. The researchers linked many powerful computer systems together to analyze enormous amounts of genetic data collected from all publicly available isolated strains of the H5N1 virus - the cause of avian flu. They then developed a new Web-based application that will allow health officials and the public visualize how the virus moved across the globe using Google Earth. The resulting visualizations, based on results of the data analysis, represent the most comprehensive map to date of how avian flu has been transmitted among sites in Asia, Africa and Europe. But underlying those findings is a new way of analyzing genetic data that generates more complete information about the flu's spread.
Surgeons and other healthcare professionals specialising in solid organ transplants have been issued with expert advice to guide them through the complex clinical issues posed by the global H1N1 ( swine flu ) pandemic. The paper, published online by the American Journal of Transplantation, also urges them to stay alert to the significant concerns that swine flu could combine with seasonal flu, and possibly even bird flu (H5N1), to develop into a strain with unpredictable virulence. "The current virus pandemic can cause severe disease in transplant patients and could be transmitted from donors" explains assistant professor Dr Deepali Kumar, an expert in transplant-related infectious diseases from the University of Alberta, Canada. "This has major implications for donor selection and transplant management and care.