Human body could yield new treatment for flu, scientists findBy Lyndsay Buckland
Published on Wednesday 26 October 2011 04:30
A FLU-KILLING protein found naturally in the body could be exploited to help develop new treatments for the virus, Scottish research shows.
A study by a team from Edinburgh University and Edinburgh Napier found that the protein – known as LL-37 – helped reduce inflammation in the lungs caused by flu.
The researchers have now been awarded £2 million to see if they can develop new treatments for infectious lung diseases such as flu.
Experts said new therapies were desperately needed, but further research had to be carried out before the latest findings could be translated into treatments for patients.
The Edinburgh researchers, working with colleagues at the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, looked at the role of “antimicrobial host defence peptides” – proteins produced by the immune system that increase during infection.
They discovered that some of these proteins possessed “potent antiviral activity” when exposed to flu.
In a series of tests, the team found that LL-37 – one of the peptides switched on by the immune system – protected mice from severe infection with flu.
They also found that the mice given the protein had significantly less inflammation in their lungs than those animals not treated with the peptide. The researchers will now explore ways to modify these natural proteins so they can create new treatments to fight the virus.
Dr Peter Barlow, from Edinburgh Napier’s Centre for Nano Safety, said: “This is a fascinating discovery. Our study demonstrates that antimicrobial peptides possess potent antiviral activity against the influenza virus.
“The data we gathered suggests that new treatments that aim to increase levels of these peptides in someone infected with the flu virus may provide significant protection against disease.
“I would stress that a peptide-based treatment is still some way off, but this is an exciting development.”
The research, published in the journal PloS One, contributed to the team being awarded £2m from the Medical Research Council to further develop their work.
Dr Donald Davidson, from the Edinburgh University Centre for Inflammation Research, added: “Antimicrobial host defence peptides are clearly a critical part of the human body’s natural defence system. By understanding their role we may be able to promote natural production in vulnerable individuals.”
Aberdeen-based microbiologist Professor Hugh Pennington said the work was worth exploring further, but it might be some time before it resulted in new treatments.
“Another issue with flu is that by the time you know you have got it, it is sometimes too late,” he said.
“By the time you are getting symptoms, unless you have some really aggressive treatment, for most people you will only get a reduction in the severity of the infection because it is normally a short-lived illness.
“But there are cases where we really do need better treatments, such as the high-risk groups like asthmatics and pregnant women. So there is a real need to have other approaches, so I am keen on more of this research being pursued.”