Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Scientists enlist engineered protein to battle the MERS virus

22.05.2017

A custom-engineered protein destroyed the deadly virus in the lab; could become a sweeping anti-viral in medicine and farming

In June 2012, a 60 year-old man with flu-like symptoms walked into a private hospital in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Two weeks later, he died from multiple organ failure, becoming the first victim of a mysterious virus that came to be known as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or MERS.


MERS particles are attached to the surface of an infected human cell.

Credit: NIAID

The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified MERS as an urgent threat with no vaccine or treatment in sight. This could change thanks to a new anti-viral tool, developed by University of Toronto researchers.

Writing in the journal PLoS Pathogens, the team led by Professor Sachdev Sidhu, of the Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research and Department of Molecular Genetics, describe how they turned ubiquitin, a staple protein in every cell, into a drug capable of thwarting MERS in cultured human cells. Because the technology can be applied to a wide range of pathogens, it could become a game-changer in anti-viral therapeutics with implications for human health and the farming industry.

"Vaccines are important for prevention, but there is a great need for anti-viral medicines to treat people who have become infected," says Dr. Wei Zhang, a postdoctoral research fellow in Sidhu's lab who did most of the work on the study.

MERS is similar to SARS, the virus that killed almost 800 people in a 2002 global epidemic. Both kill upwards of a third of people infected and, like many viruses, emerged from animals--bats and camels in the case of MERS--after mutating into a form capable of infecting human cells. Although MERS has so far been detected in 27 countries since the first case emerged in 2012, the outbreak has largely been contained within Saudi Arabia, according to the WHO.

Like many viruses, MERS works by hijacking the ubiquitin system in human cells composed of hundreds of proteins that rely on ubiquitin to keep the cells alive and well. Upon infection, viral enzymes alter ubiquitin pathways in a way that allows the virus to evade the immune defense while multiplying and destroying the host tissue as it spreads in the body.

"Viruses have evolved proteins that allow them to hijack host proteins. We can now devise strategies to prevent this from happening," says Zhang.

Zhang and colleagues engineered the human ubiquitin protein into a new form that paralyses a key MERS enzyme, stopping the virus from replicating. These synthetic ubiquitin variants act quickly, completely eliminating MERS from cells in a dish within 24 hours.

The researchers also created UbVs that blocks the Crimean-Congo virus, the cause of a haemorrhagic fever that kills about 40 per cent of those infected.

And they're designed to only target only the virus -- hopefully minimizing side effects in any future drug.

But before these engineered proteins can be developed into medicine, researchers first must find a way to deliver them into the right part of the body. For this, Zhang and Sidhu are working with Dr. Roman Melnyk, a biochemist in The Hospital for Sick Children and a world expert in protein delivery.

The team is also investigating the possibility of finding drugs that work in a similar manner but can already cross the cell membrane.

It is likely that the proteins will be tested first in plants and animals where regulatory approvals are less strict than they are for human drugs. "We are also working on an engineered ubiquitin that targets a corn virus responsible for destroying large swaths of corn fields in North America, with colleagues in Manitoba," says Zhang.

In the meantime, Zhang will continue to improve delivery of his designer proteins to human cells that target not only MERS but also other viruses. He hopes others will follow suit.

"With our tool, we can quickly generate anti-viral medicine and we hope that our method will inspire other researchers to try it out against diverse pathogens," says Zhang.

###

The study was done in collaboration with Professor Marjolein Kikkert, of Leiden University Medical Centre in The Netherlands and Professor Brian Mark at the University of Manitoba.

Jovana Drinjakovic | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Rochester scientists discover gene controlling genetic recombination rates
23.04.2018 | University of Rochester

nachricht One step closer to reality
20.04.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Entwicklungsbiologie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Spider silk key to new bone-fixing composite

University of Connecticut researchers have created a biodegradable composite made of silk fibers that can be used to repair broken load-bearing bones without the complications sometimes presented by other materials.

Repairing major load-bearing bones such as those in the leg can be a long and uncomfortable process.

Im Focus: Writing and deleting magnets with lasers

Study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces is the outcome of an international effort that included teams from Dresden and Berlin in Germany, and the US.

Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) together with colleagues from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and the University of Virginia...

Im Focus: Gamma-ray flashes from plasma filaments

Novel highly efficient and brilliant gamma-ray source: Based on model calculations, physicists of the Max PIanck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg propose a novel method for an efficient high-brilliance gamma-ray source. A giant collimated gamma-ray pulse is generated from the interaction of a dense ultra-relativistic electron beam with a thin solid conductor. Energetic gamma-rays are copiously produced as the electron beam splits into filaments while propagating across the conductor. The resulting gamma-ray energy and flux enable novel experiments in nuclear and fundamental physics.

The typical wavelength of light interacting with an object of the microcosm scales with the size of this object. For atoms, this ranges from visible light to...

Im Focus: Basel researchers succeed in cultivating cartilage from stem cells

Stable joint cartilage can be produced from adult stem cells originating from bone marrow. This is made possible by inducing specific molecular processes occurring during embryonic cartilage formation, as researchers from the University and University Hospital of Basel report in the scientific journal PNAS.

Certain mesenchymal stem/stromal cells from the bone marrow of adults are considered extremely promising for skeletal tissue regeneration. These adult stem...

Im Focus: Like a wedge in a hinge

Researchers lay groundwork to tailor drugs for new targets in cancer therapy

In the fight against cancer, scientists are developing new drugs to hit tumor cells at so far unused weak points. Such a “sore spot” is the protein complex...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

Unique scope of UV LED technologies and applications presented in Berlin: ICULTA-2018

12.04.2018 | Event News

IWOLIA: A conference bringing together German Industrie 4.0 and French Industrie du Futur

09.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Tiny microenvironments in the ocean hold clues to global nitrogen cycle

23.04.2018 | Earth Sciences

Joining metals without welding

23.04.2018 | Trade Fair News

Researchers illuminate the path to a new era of microelectronics

23.04.2018 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>