USU researchers testing antivirals to combat H1N1

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LOGAN -- Some Utah scientists are among a select group testing new-generation antiviral compounds to attack the H1N1 virus. The virus sample they have will remain under lock and key in what is called a "Biohazard Level 3 Lab" at Utah State University

"There is no immunity, and therefore it requires a higher level of precaution with this agent," said Dr. Donald Smee, with the USU Institute for Antiviral Research.

He and his colleagues, along with technicians the U.S. Navy, are preparing various combinations of drugs and new-generation compounds.

Actual work on the virus begins Friday in the Biohazard Level 3 Lab. The safety protocol researchers will follow once inside that lab includes double-door entries, negative-flow air pressure, gloves, masks, gowns and both alcohol and soap hand washing.

"Then the virus, as it leaves the building, goes through a HEPA filter system, so the virus literally does not leave," Smee said.

USU researchers will test various antiviral drugs, including some new ones that attack the virus a different way. They'll begin with cell cultures then follow up later with analysis of mouse models.

One promising new compound is labeled T705. "It attacks the genetic, the RNA, of the virus," Smee said. "We are very excited about this compound as being a model therapy or in combination with compounds such as T705, because it has a different mode of action."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers are scrambling right now, looking for the best of the best of antivirals and hoping new recipes or compounds will be in place if H1N1 should surface as a more potent virus at the beginning of our next flu season.

As it is now, H1N1 probably has a combination of bird, swine and human attributes. Like any virus that continues to mutate, it could become more potent or burn itself out. The CDC wants protection in place no matter what path it decides to follow.


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Ed Yeates


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