1.5bn-year-old protein could unlock secrets to fight globally devastating viruses

12 Jul 2017

Bacteria and viruses on surface of skin. Image: zuzazuz/Shutterstock

An international team of researchers has looked to the past to find better ways of treating diseases with the discovery of a 1.5bn-year-old protein.

Viruses that affect or kill millions of people around the world could have a new enemy in the form of an ancient protein, as discovered by an international team that included Trinity College Dublin (TCD) researchers.

In a paper published to the journal Nature Communications, the team identified an ancient, 1.5bn-year-old cell biological process found in plants, fungi and mammals, which could potentially unlock the door to better treatment of viral diseases.

Future Human

The key component of the discovery was in a protein called Nox2 oxidase, which was activated following infection with viruses, including influenza, rhinovirus dengue and HIV, irrespective of the strain.

This protein became the driving force behind the virus taking over as it suppressed the body’s key antiviral reaction and its ability to fight and clear the infection.

This in turn resulted in a stronger or more virulent disease in mice but its effect on humans is believed to be similar, based on the team’s analysis.

In a bid to find a potential prototype drug for treating such diseases, the researchers found that the Nox2 oxidase protein activated by the viruses is located in a cell compartment called an endosome.

‘New era in viral infected cell treatment’

Using genetic manipulation, the team was able to modify a chemical that restrained the activity of Nox2 oxidase and create a custom drug, which was found to be very effective at suppressing disease caused by influenza infection.

Contributing author Prof John O’Leary from TCD said: “The findings of this international study are hugely important in terms of the fight against viral epidemics and pandemics. Standard antiviral therapies in general target the virus directly.

“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.”

Such a breakthrough would be timely as in March of this year, another team with Irish involvement within the EU established that we, as a global society, are vastly underprepared for a global pandemic.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic