The team at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) collaborated with others in Australia and the US to discover that a 1.5bn-year-old cell biological process enhances viral disease in mice.
The researchers, led by RMIT University scientists in Melbourne, believe it is highly likely it has the same effect on viruses in humans.
They identified a protein that is activated by a range of viruses and suppresses the body’s ability to fight infection, in turn resulting in a stronger disease under the testing with mice. However, they have also investigated a new prototype drug to treat debilitating viral diseases, ranging from the flu and the common cold to HIV.
Flu hospitalised almost 1,900 people last year and caused 84 deaths in Ireland, and more than 500,000 deaths globally. The drug tested by the international study inhibited the activity of the protein activated by viruses, and was found to be very effective at suppressing disease caused by flu infection.
The findings were hailed as hugely important in the fight against viral epidemics and pandemics by John O’Leary, chair of pathology at TCD and consultant pathologist at St James’s and the Coombe hospitals in Dublin.
He is a contributing author to the study results, published in the prestigious scientific and medical journal Nature Communications yesterday.
“Standard anti-viral therapies in general target the virus directly,” said Prof O’Leary. “This new research highlights how viruses disrupt normal cells and a key molecule that regulates this disruption. By selective targeting of this molecule, a new era in viral infected cell treatment will be ushered in.”
Further research to develop new drugs for trial is being pursued by the team, whose work was funded by Australian research bodies.