New Flu Treatment May Prevent Pandemic Influenza Outbreaks

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Preventing the flu via the C5a receptor: Image by Kohidai, L.

Are pandemic flu fears a thing of the past?

Flu research published today in the Public Library of Science demonstrates that a new chemical created to bind to the receptors of an immune protein called C5a, or Complement Component 5a, may be the answer to our influenza worries.

C5a plays an essential role in airways defense against bacterial, viral, and fungal infection.

Now, researchers from the University of Nebraska Medical Center and San Diego have developed an agonist, or chemical that binds to the C5a’s receptor, and retains the cell’s immune-enhancing activity, while eliminating its inflammatory properties. In this research, mice treated with the chemical, called EP67, within twenty-four hours of infection with the flue were significantly protected from influenza-induced weight loss.

EP67 delivered twenty-four hours after lethal infection completely blocked influenza-induced mortality; this chemical essentially prevented death from the flu.

EP67 may prove effective against a wide variety of  viral, bacterial, and fungal pathogens; potentially stopping the worldwide spread of respiratory diseases, including novel strains of influenza.

Flu Research: Purpose of the Test, and Methodology

The development of therapeutic agents to combat infection by enhancing the immune system could result in protection against multiple pathogens, instead of the current “one bug, one drug” system in which each individual strain of a virus requires its own unique vaccine or treatment.

In this research, mice were infected with influenza virus strain H1N1. The virus count was calculated using uninfected lung tissue from the mice, to which known numbers of influenza particles called virions (virions are made up of the an outer protein shell and an inner core of nucleic acid from the virus) had been added prior to its isolation.

Influenza Virus Research: Results

The results of this research were significant. Key findings included:

  • EP67 induces an immune response in the airway: This chemical induced an immune response two hours and two days after the mice were treated with EP67.
  • Significant protection from flu-induced weight loss: Mice treated with EP67 within a day of infection were significantly protected from influenza-induced weight loss on day eight. The immune response induced by EP67 in the presence of influenza infection was similar to that seen in mice treated with EP67 in the absence of an influenza infection.
  • Protection from flu death: Delayed EP67 treatment protects from lethal influenza infection.
The Influenza Virus

The potential pandemic influenza virus may be a variant of the H1N1, or Swine Flu virus. Photo Credit: C. S. Goldsmith and A. Balish, CDC

Infection Treatment: Summary

The ability to enhance the immune response is the prime objective when treating viral, bacterial, and fungal infections. This strategy requires development of immune proteins which induce innate immunity, without causing inflammation, or other side effects. C5a is integral to the immune response, as it attracts inflammatory cells to the site of infection, and activates their immune responses.

This study shows that the delivery of EP67 to the airways induces a potent anti-viral response, characterized by an influx of immune response cell populations. A single dose of EP67 ensures that a patient’s innate immune response will provide 100% protection following infection with what would normally be a lethal dose of influenza.

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