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BYU makes breakthrough in fight against the flu

By Jennifer Stagg | Posted - Oct. 21, 2010 at 10:19 p.m.



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PROVO -- Imagine a day when we no longer have to battle the flu each year. It could be coming, thanks to a team of scientists and students at Brigham Young University.

Flu viruses mutate so quickly, they're difficult to control.

"A pandemic could sweep around the globe really quickly if the flu was very virulent -- meaning it could kill people easily and quickly -- and if it was very infectious, meaning it could spread from person to person quickly," says David Busath, biophysics professor at BYU.

But Busath and his team of researchers now have a clear idea of how to stop the flu whether it mutates or not. They are responsible for a major scientific breakthrough.

Drugs used to stop the influenza A virus by blocking a hole in the virus called the "M2 Channel." But the virus has mutated so many times that the most popular antiviral drugs no longer work. Now, thanks to Busath's team, another drug could soon be developed.

"We're working on the structure of the protein with the hope of finding a drug that would block that protein," he says.

The team at BYU has been working to carefully examine the M2 Channel. They worked with Florida State University's National High Magnetic Field Laboratory to use a 16-ton magnet to give the virus a sort of MRI.

They have worked with such precision, scientists can now see previously unknown details about the protein. Busath describes it as a clear target that doctors can now aim for.

"You stop this protein, [and] you keep the flu from reproducing," he says.

The next step is to find a drug to stop all mutations of the flu, which Busath says could happen within the next decade.

"I think there's good reason to hope that we could come at the flu from a different angle, through better drugs than we've had in the past," he says.

BYU's findings have been published in the journal Science, which will be on newsstands Friday.

E-mail: jstagg@ksl.com

Jennifer Stagg

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