Soon, flu could be wiped out without the need of an injection, as researchers have found a way of increasing the level of a key protein in the human body that could end the virus.
Jacob Yount of the Ohio State University said that the flu vaccine needed to change every year because the virus was constantly mutating, adding that they have been targeting a more fundamental process that was not specific to any particular strain of the virus.
Yount’s lab showed that altering the role of one protein could stop the virus in its tracks, they began using experimental drugs to test this flu prevention strategy in mice.
The method involves raising the level of a protein that is known to be effective against all strains of influenza ever tested. The trick for infection prevention, however, is boosting that protein’s level in cells before the virus shows up. Doing that, the scientists discovered in this study, involves suppressing the function of another protein.
The protein effective against influenza is called IFITM3, (pronounced I-fit-M-3, for interferon-induced transmembrane protein 3).
Interferon has the role of telling an enzyme that degrades IFITM3 to hold off on that job so the IFITM3 level can stay high and fend off an influenza attack. This enzyme, also a protein, proved to be the silver bullet in Yount’s work on flu prevention.
The enzyme is called NEDD4 (pronounced Ned-4), and it degrades IFITM3 by attaching a small chain of molecules to it – a common process of protein clearing called ubiquitination.
Yount said that they figured out a way to induce just this single interferon response – the most important thing interferon does for flu.
The study is published in the journal PLOS Pathogens.