Dr Ben Neuman, in collaboration with labs in California and Oregon and AVI Biopharma of Corvallis Oregon, has designed a drug which reduces the spread of infection of a family of viruses known as arenaviruses by up to 90% in laboratory tests.
Arenaviruses are normally found in small mammals, such as rodents and bats. People can become infected after coming into contact with infected rodents that live in and around their homes.
Common in Africa, South America and North America these viruses can be fatal. The Centre for Disease Control estimates that arenavirus diseases, such as Lassa Fever, kill an estimated 5,000 people each year, mostly in the developing world. New types of arenaviruses are being discovered at the rate of about one per year.
Virus particles reproduce in living cells. When the virus has made enough copies of itself it leaves the host cell to infect other cells. The new drugs developed by Dr Neuman’s group, called PPMO, work by stopping the virus from copying its own genes, thereby stopping the disease from spreading.
Dr Neuman, from the University of Reading’s School of Biological Sciences, showed that three related PPMO compounds could prevent the spread of infection from cells which were infected by four different viruses of the arenavirus family. The compounds were found to reduce the amount of virus present in the liver by over 90% following treatment.
Dr Neuman said: “The results we have so far are very promising. Cells will naturally die and be replaced relatively regularly in the body, so if the new drugs stop the viruses from reproducing, potentially the virus could eventually be eradicated from the body over time.
“But arenavirus PPMO are not a finished product yet. Before they can be approved for medical use, more work will be needed to show that they are safe and effective in larger animals and people.”
If successful PPMO could be used as part of a multi-drug therapy, a strategy which is used to slow the spread of HIV and its progression to AIDS. It is also thought that PPMO could one day be given as a preventative measure to people who will be travelling to places where arenavirus infections are common.
PPMO compounds are also being developed to combat swine flu and other potentially deadly diseases such as Dengue fever and Ebola haemorrhagic fever.
Dr Neuman’s research is detailed in his study entitled Development of peptide-conjugated morpholino oligomers as pan-arenavirus inhibitors published today, Fri 30 Sept 2011, in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy
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Notes to Editors:
The University of Reading’s School of Biological Sciencesis a research intensive institution which prides itself on the excellence and relevance of its degree courses. It consists of two sections – Biomedical Sciences and Environmental Biology. The latter deals primarily in ecology and evolutionary biology, and the applied links between these disciplines, wildlife conservation and the biological control of agricultural pests and diseases.
- The University of Reading is one of the UK’s top research-intensive universities. The University is ranked in the top 20 UK higher education institutions in securing research council grants worth nearly 10 million from EPSRC, ESRC, MRC, NERC, AHRC and BBSRC. In the RAE 2008, over 87% of the university’s research was deemed to be of international standing. Areas of particular research strength recognised include meteorology and climate change, typography and graphic design, archaeology, philosophy, food biosciences, construction management, real estate and planning, as well as law.
- Standards of teaching are excellent – the University scored highly in the National Student Survey 2011. 89% of Reading students responding to the survey stated they were satisfied with the quality of their course.
- The University is estimated to contribute 600 million to the local economy annually.
- University of Reading is a member of the 1994 Group of 19 leading research-intensive universities. The Group was established in 1994 to promote excellence in university research and teaching. Each member undertakes diverse and high-quality research, while ensuring excellent levels of teaching and student experience. www.1994group.ac.uk
- More information at www.reading.ac.uk
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