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A “cure” for flu may hinge on proteins that neutralise the virus bystopping it undergoing a shape change necessary before it can infecthuman cells.
Researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School in Boston, USA believe the breakthrough might save millions of lives in the event of a bird flu-type pandemic.
The researchers had set out to sieve known monoclonal antibodies for variants that could target a weak spot in the “neck” of the virus just below its peanut-shaped head.
The 10 antibodies they identified neutralise all group 1 influenza A viruses, including H5N1 bird flu, the 1918 pandemic Spanish Flu strain that killed an estimated 50 million people around the world, and seasonal H1N1 strains.
In the four to six months it might take to produce a suitable vaccine, these antibodies could be made quickly and rapidly deployed in large numbers.
The research, published in the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, records how the viral haemaglutinin protein structure targeted by the antibodies is so essential to the virus that it cannot be mutated away.
Copyright Press Association 2009