Genetic breakthrough supercharges immunity to flu and other viruses

 Genetic breakthrough supercharges immunity to flu and other viruses

Researchers at McGill University have discovered a way to boost an organism’s natural anti-virus defences, effectively making its cells immune to influenza and other viruses.

The research was conducted by post-doctoral fellows Dr. Rodney Colina and Dr. Mauro Costa-Mattioli, working in collaboration with Dr. Nahum Sonenberg, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute International Scholar at McGill. They worked with colleagues at l’Institut de Recherches Cliniques de Montréal (IRCM) and the Ottawa Health Research Institute (OHRI). Their results are to be published February 13 in the journal Nature.

Their process – which could lead to the development of new anti-viral therapies in humans – involved knocking out two genes in mice that repress production of the protein interferon, the cell’s first line of defence against viruses. Without these repressor genes, the mouse cells produced much higher levels of interferon, which effectively blocked viruses from reproducing. The researchers tested the process on influenza virus, encephalomyocarditis virus, vesicular stomatitis virus and Sindbis virus.

“People have been worried for years about potential new viral pandemics, such as avian influenzas,” Dr. Sonenberg said. “If we might now have the means to develop a new therapy to fight flu, the potential is huge.”

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