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Irish scientists' breakthrough could lead to virus immunity

Trinity’s Immunology discovery could help restore our natural immunity to viruses such as Ebola, Zika and SARS – as well as the common flu.

Image: Shutterstock/UGREEN 3S

SCIENTISTS AT TRINITY College Dublin have discovered that a biological molecule important in cell growth is also critical in protecting us against infection – so much so that we would be unable to fight the common flu virus without it.

Their discovery could lead to the development of new therapeutics that would help restore our natural immunity to other viruses such as Ebola, Zika and SARS.

The team behind the work was led by assistant professor in Immunology at Trinity College Dublin, Dr Nigel Stevenson. The findings have recently been published in the journal Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences CMLS.

The science behind the discovery

During any viral infection our cells produce an immune molecule called Interferon, which prevents attacking viruses from replicating in our bodies.

When our cells are stimulated by Interferon a cascade of molecules within our cells is activated like a series of dominos. When the final one falls, the cell should be able to clear the viral infection.

The Interferon initiates the production of several hundred immune molecules that act to destroy viruses and amplify our immune response against them.

But many viruses are not cleared by our natural immune response and can often cause serious illness. As part of their discovery, Trinity researchers have found that viruses have evolved numerous methods to block responses to Interferon.

Scientists had, until now, believed they fully understood how Interferon worked, but by using a series of viral infections and cutting-edge molecular techniques, Dr Stevenson’s team discovered a new anti-viral role for what’s technically known as ‘STAT3′.

“Of course a major goal is to find solutions to the real-world problems faced by the thousands of people who cannot clear certain viruses after they have been infected,” says Dr Stevenson.

“This discovery opens the door to new therapeutic options, which, we hope, will be able to help people restore their natural immunity against a host of problematic viruses.”

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