Bird flu survivors may hold key to cure
Adults who have recovered from the potentially deadly
H5N1 strain of avian influenza may hold the key to future treatments for the
virus, according to a team of researchers.
In a study (published in PLoS Medicine
), researchers have shown how specific antibodies
taken from bird flu survivors can be reproduced in the laboratory and prove
effective at neutralising the virus in culture vitro and in mice.
Preventing infection and neautralising the virus
Doctors based at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Vietnam, the
Institute for Research in Biomedicine in Switzerland, and the National Institute
of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the US, have shown that monoclonal
antibodies generated from blood of human survivors of the H5N1
virus are effective at both preventing infection in
mice and neutralising the virus in those already infected.
The researchers discovered that the antibodies provided significant
immunity to mice that were subsequently infected with the Vietnam strain of
H5N1. This significantly reduced the amount of virus found in the lungs and
almost completely prevented the virus reaching the brain or spleen. In those
people in Vietnam who died from the H5N1 strain, the virus was found to have
spread from the lungs; this was not the case in those who survived.
Clinical benefit to humans
"We have shown that this technique can work to prevent and neutralise
infection by the H5N1 'bird flu' virus in mice," says Dr Cameron Simmons, a
researcher at the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit, Vietnam. "We are
optimistic that these antibodies, if delivered at the right time and at the
right amount, could also provide a clinical benefit to humans with H5N1
"We can't say for certain that a pandemic influenza virus will resemble the
H5N1 strain that we have been studying or that the monoclonal antibodies
generated using our technique will be able to tackle such a virus," says
Professor Lanzavecchia. "Nevertheless, we are encouraged by the broad
neutralizing activity of these antibodies in the lab and the moderate doses
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