Method for containing zoonotic viruses shows promise

Method for containing zoonotic viruses shows promise

Feb 01, 2008
By staff

NATIONAL REPORT — Scientists are testing a method of blocking two large-animal viruses — both considered potential bioterrorism agents — from infecting humans, by using an "entry inhibitor" approach.

Hendra and Nipah viruses are deadly, highly infectious and newly recognized zoonotic viruses that have spread from their natural hosts, fruit bats, and are now being seen in large animals, including pigs and horses. There have been some human cases.

Transmission is believed to occur through close contact with or inhalation of the virus; infection often leads to encephalitis, for which there is no effective treatment.

Researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York developed a method for potentially blocking the viruses from entering human cells. Already proven effective in animal cells, scientists hope the method can be used to create a drug to curb a human outbreak.

Authors of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases' Biodefense Research Agenda included both Nipah and Hendra viruses as possible bioterrorism agents.

"We've been urgently working on this because there's nothing that can be done to stop this fatal, transmissible illness," says Dr. Anne Moscona, the study's senior researcher and a pediatrics, micro-biology and immunology professor at Weill Cornell. The research yielded a peptide-based inhibitor that works as a "door jamb," blocking both viruses from fully fusing, or closing in on host cells, says Dr. Min Lu, biochemistry professor at Weill Cornell.

The next step is to develop the peptides to be even more effective, researchers say.