Researchers funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) have discovered mutations that worsen respiratory infections among children. Their study explain the mechanism involved.
Colds that are not linked to influenza are generally benign. Still, 2% of each generation of children have to go to hospital following a virulent infection. "These respiratory problems are responsible for 20% of child mortality around the world", says Jacques Fellay, who has held an SNSF professorship since 2011. "It is truly a silent epidemic."
Researchers funded by the SNSF have discovered mutations that worsen respiratory infections among children. Their study explain the mechanism involved.
An international research collaboration coordinated by Fellay has discovered the reason for some of these infections: they are caused by mutations of a gene that plays a part in recognising certain cold-inducing viruses. (*)
"We have been able to confirm that a gene, called IFIH1, plays an important role in defending the body against the principal viruses responsible for respiratory infections among children", he explains. This gene normally helps in identifying the virus's RNA, a type of genetic information related to the DNA. "We have been able to isolate the mechanisms that prevent the immune systems of children with an IFIH mutation from successfully combating the viral infection."
Hospitals in Switzerland and Australia
The researchers collaborated with various paediatric wards in Swiss and Australian hospitals to study cases of children who needed intensive care after a severe respiratory infection (bronchiolitis or pneumonia) caused by a virus. They excluded premature babies and children with chronic illnesses in order to focus on the genetic causes. The result: of the 120 children included in the study, eight carried mutations of the IFIH1 gene.
"This gene encodes a protein which recognises the presence of a certain number of cold-inducing microbes in a cell, such as the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) or rhinoviruses", explains Samira Asgari of EPFL, who designed the experiments. “They attach themselves to the germ's RNA and trigger a cascade of molecular signals that provoke an effective immune reaction." The researcher has been able to show that three different mutations of IFIH1 render the protein incapable of recognising the virus, thereby preventing the body from defending itself against the infection.
In 2015, Jacques Fellay had already studied the genome of more than 2000 patients and statistically shown which genetic variations influence our capacity to defend ourselves against common viral infections.(**) "The two approaches are complementary", says Fellay. "A study covering a large number of subjects, like the one in 2015, makes it possible to identify the relevant genes across the entire population; but their variations have only a limited impact on individuals. In contrast, a study focusing on carefully selected patients enables you to investigate mutations that are more rare but also more critical for the patient, and to pinpoint the mechanisms in play."
Prevention and therapy
These results should prove useful for setting new therapeutic and preventive targets: "At their parents' request, we also tested the siblings of some of the children carrying the mutation to see if they too are more fragile when it comes to infections. If this is the case, parents may decide to keep their child at home during an epidemic, or to go to hospital double-quick if the child catches a cold."
For Jacques Fellay, this research work aptly illustrates the methods and objectives of personalised medicine or 'precision medicine': "Our bodies' capacity to ward off illnesses can vary greatly. A better understanding of the genetic mechanisms that create these differences will lead to more targeted prevention and therapy. One scenario might involve genetic screening to determine the degree of susceptibility to infections; this could be included in the blood tests that are routinely performed just after birth. But society would need to have a say in deciding which genetic tests are desirable."
This research is the result of a collaboration between EPFL, the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, the universities of Bern, Geneva, Lausanne and Queensland, the University Hospital of Geneva, the Centre hospitalier universitaire vaudois (CHUV) and the children's hospitals of Lucerne and Brisbane.
(*) S. Asgari et al.: Severe viral respiratory infections in children with IFIH1 loss-of-function mutations. PNAS (2017)
(**) C. Hammer et al.: Amino Acid Variation in HLA Class II Proteins Is a Major Determinant of Humoral Response to Common Viruses. The American Journal of Human Genetics (2015); doi:10.1016/j.ajhg.2015.09.008. See also “Genetic variation is key to fighting viruses”
The publications are available online.
School of Life Sciences, EPFL
Phone: +41 21 69 31849
Trump travel ban affected researchers
This study was carried out by Samira Asgari, who obtained a PhD at EPFL in 2016 after completing her studies in biotechnology at the University of Teheran. In January 2017, she was denied entry to the United States, where she was expected to take up a position at Harvard Medical School. The refusal of entry occurred following the travel ban issued by the Trump administration and made headlines both in Switzerland and the US. It prompted the SNSF to offer help to all researchers affected by the ban. Samira Asgari has since been able to join Soumya Raychaudhuri’s lab in Boston, where she works on the genetics of tuberculosis thanks to a postdoc fellowship from the SNSF.
http://www.snf.ch/en/researchinFocus/newsroom/Pages/news-170131-us-travel-ban-sn... 'News: The SNSF supports researchers affected by travel ban'
http://p3.snf.ch/project-172101 'Samira Asgari’s postdoc fellowship'
Medien - Abteilung Kommunikation | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Can 'smart toilets' be the next health data wellspring?
13.11.2019 | Morgridge Institute for Research
Novel mathematical framework provides a deeper understanding of how drugs interact
13.11.2019 | CeMM Forschungszentrum für Molekulare Medizin der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften
Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are valuable for a wide variety of applications. Made of graphene sheets rolled into tubes 10,000 times smaller than a human hair, CNTs have an exceptional strength-to-mass ratio and excellent thermal and electrical properties. These features make them ideal for a range of applications, including supercapacitors, interconnects, adhesives, particle trapping and structural color.
New research reveals even more potential for CNTs: as a coating, they can both repel and hold water in place, a useful property for applications like printing,...
If you've ever tried to put several really strong, small cube magnets right next to each other on a magnetic board, you'll know that you just can't do it. What happens is that the magnets always arrange themselves in a column sticking out vertically from the magnetic board. Moreover, it's almost impossible to join several rows of these magnets together to form a flat surface. That's because magnets are dipolar. Equal poles repel each other, with the north pole of one magnet always attaching itself to the south pole of another and vice versa. This explains why they form a column with all the magnets aligned the same way.
Now, scientists at ETH Zurich have managed to create magnetic building blocks in the shape of cubes that - for the first time ever - can be joined together to...
Quantum-based communication and computation technologies promise unprecedented applications, such as unconditionally secure communications, ultra-precise...
In two experiments performed at the free-electron laser FLASH in Hamburg a cooperation led by physicists from the Heidelberg Max Planck Institute for Nuclear physics (MPIK) demonstrated strongly-driven nonlinear interaction of ultrashort extreme-ultraviolet (XUV) laser pulses with atoms and ions. The powerful excitation of an electron pair in helium was found to compete with the ultrafast decay, which temporarily may even lead to population inversion. Resonant transitions in doubly charged neon ions were shifted in energy, and observed by XUV-XUV pump-probe transient absorption spectroscopy.
An international team led by physicists from the MPIK reports on new results for efficient two-electron excitations in helium driven by strong and ultrashort...
An international research group has observed new quantum properties on an artificial giant atom and has now published its results in the high-ranking journal Nature Physics. The quantum system under investigation apparently has a memory - a new finding that could be used to build a quantum computer.
The research group, consisting of German, Swedish and Indian scientists, has investigated an artificial quantum system and found new properties.
05.11.2019 | Event News
30.10.2019 | Event News
02.10.2019 | Event News
13.11.2019 | Physics and Astronomy
13.11.2019 | Physics and Astronomy
13.11.2019 | Materials Sciences