Scientists Uncover New Drug Target for Antiviral Treatment

Protecting against viruses in humans

Every now and then, humans are confronted with viral outbreaks, such as the current coronavirus epidemic in China and some other countries.

It is by no means an easy thing developing vaccines to protect against viruses – this typically takes a long time. Even when available, vaccines are not helpful to everyone and may not be reliable for new, future viral outbreaks. This reality makes the findings in this study all the more exciting.

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Having studied the effects that different Argonaute proteins have on viruses, the researchers found that AGO4 is a promising target for antiviral treatment. The deficiency of this particular protein made cells notably vulnerable to viral infections.

Studies carried out in mice with flu show that the ones that were deficient in AGO4 have considerably more viruses.

Scientists in this study, therefore, theorized that increasing AGO4 levels in humans could enable immune cells to offer improved protection against a myriad of viruses.

“The goal is to understand how our immune system works so we can create treatments that work against a range of viruses, rather than just vaccines against a particular one,” said Kate L. Jeffrey, Ph.D.

Jeffrey led the team of MGH researchers in this study.

MGH, the original teaching hospital of the Harvard Medical School, boasts having the leading hospital-based research program anywhere in the United States. It has over 8,500 researchers combined working in its centers, institutes, and departments.

The next goal for the researchers is to find out “how broad spectrum” this approach will be against diverse viruses. There is also a need to figure out how to increase AGO4 levels to boost protection against viruses, Jeffrey said.


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