Drug against winter vomiting virus a step closer
29 June 2009
A new finding on how winter vomiting virus invades cells could be an
important step in the development of a drug against the regular
hospital-based epidemics caused by the virus.
The virus that causes winter vomiting disease invades cells by
attaching to particular sugar molecules on the surface of the cells,
according to a researcher at the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of
Winter vomiting disease is an infectious inflammation of the
gastro-intestinal tract, which occurs principally during the winter
months. There is presently no vaccine, and no drugs to combat the
infection. The disease causes diarrhoea and vomiting, and its
consequences may be very serious for people who are already seriously
ill or weak.
"We are aiming to develop a drug that can be given to vulnerable
persons and to children in day-care when it has become clear that
another epidemic is starting to break out. More research will, however,
be required. Our results are important steps along the way, but it will
probably be several years before a drug is commercially available", says
Gustaf Rydell who wrote his PhD on the virus.
The thesis describes how the virus for winter vomiting disease can
attach to cells by binding to special sugar chains. One of these chains
is characterised in that it has a monosaccharide known as sialic acid at
its end. The thesis also shows that the virus binds to such sugar chains
even when they are not part of the cell surface. This means that it may
be possible for the sugar chains to prevent the virus infecting the
cells by blocking its binding structures.
"Our results suggest that the sugar chains that have sialic acid are
important for infection by the virus, but this must be confirmed. If it
is true, it would be possible to develop a drug that blocks the access
of the virus to the sugar molecule. One thing that we must investigate
first, however, is whether there are other target molecules that the
virus can use to enter the cell. These may be the starting point for
even more effective drugs", says Gustaf Rydell.
Noroviruses are considered to be the micro-organism that causes the
greatest incidence of vomiting and diarrhoea in the world. The viruses
are responsible for approximately 200,000 child deaths in developing
countries each year. Development of pharmaceuticals is made difficult by
the fact that new virus strains arise continuously. One fifth of the
population of Europe are "secretor negative" individuals, and these
people have an inherited resistance to noroviruses.
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