Wednesday, January 16, 2019

New genus of virus similar to Ebola is found is Chinese fruit bats

This past week researchers in China have discovered a new virus: the Menglá virus. This new genus of filovirus (snake like, RNA encoded virus) infects hosts using the same receptors as both Ebola and Marburg, two oftentimes-deadly viruses. Menglá is known to be carried by fruit bats and there is yet to be any evidence of human infection, but evidence shows that there is a “broad cell tropism” which could give the virus the ability to be easily transmitted across species.
This could mean two distinct things for the human population in the area. Primarily, the existence of yet another (possibly) interspecies filovirus means that an outbreak of a new virus (which the scientific community does not know how to address) could serve as a threat to public health. Secondarily, it means that if there are people in the area who have already been infected or who have been able to develop antibodies against the virus, researchers could use that information or those antibody sequences to take steps towards creating solutions to combat filoviruses in a more general sense. Could this discovery be predicting the next zoonotic disease outbreak or could it be the next step in stopping them?

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-India Robinson
Cocktail of antibodies is proving to protect monkeys from Ebola

The Ebola virus was brought to the forefront of global attention during the outbreak from 2013-2016 in which almost 30 thousand people were affected and more than 11 thousand in West Africa died at the hands of the virus. An ongoing outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is already the second largest outbreak of Ebola on record, putting a lot of pressure on the medical community to find a medical countermeasure to the viral agent. So far, the US government has approved no countermeasures, but research is looking promising.

On January 10th, the U.S. Army Medical Research Institution of Infectious Disease announced that they have been able to successful make a cocktail of various monoclonal antibodies that can protect monkeys against all three strains of Ebola even when administered as late as a week after infection. The mixture, called MBP134, is made up of two monoclonal antibodies (originally found in the blood of one of the survivors of the 2013-2016 outbreak), which have been found to have an enhanced effect when paired together. While previous mixtures of mAbs have been able to protect guinea pigs, this modified version is the first with the ability to protect a primate species. Ideally, this is one large step closer to finding a vaccine for humans.

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-India Robinson

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

New Chemotherapy for Viruses

A team of scientists in Hong Kong recently announced their latest discovery of chemical that can be used in the treatment of viral infectious diseases, namely Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars).

This chemical is a broad-spectrum antiviral drug, which means it can kill a multitude of viruses compared to a vaccine that can only target one strain. The method by which this is done involves starving the viruses by interrupting the lipids in its replication pathway. By attacking the replication process, there is little concern for the development of viral resistance.

However, this drug is not without its concerns. Since it does attack necessary compounds in the human host cell, there is likely to be damage and side effects of which the extent is unknown.

This drug is still in it’s early stages of development, currently being tested on a wider variety of animals such as primates. We will likely not see it being used in humans for another 10 or so years. If approved, this chemical would allow us to stop a viral epidemic without any development time thanks to it being applicable to any viruses. We would gain a great ally in the world of epidemic control.

-Mailo Numazu


Viruses as Therapeutics: Advancements in Potential Phage Therapy

Recent research published by Princeton researchers has made large strides in understanding how viruses act in their inert phase and how biochemical coordination of dynamic phase can be closely related to the host cells that they infect. This work showed a viral strain VP882 (which is now one of many of its kind) that is capable of entering dynamic phase only when its bacterial host(s) have achieved quorum. It is upon this widespread biochemical quorum signaling that VP882 has been shown to enter the dynamic phase via microscopy of viral protein localization, killing its current host cells. This work practically creates a whole new field of study for virologists, as now the biochemical motivation of the viral inert to dynamic transition can be thoroughly evaluated. Further, it was shown that this switch can be flipped by using the supplementing these same quorum sensing molecules into the media and that this effect results in the death of bacterial hosts.  This technology suggests two major possibilities for this new sub-field of virology: the application of phage therapy in the prevention and treatment of bacterial biofilm-reliant infections (like complex urinary tract infections; cUTI, and acute bacterial skin and skin structure infections; ABSSSI) and the harnessing of the viral mechanism to help advance phage therapy mechanisms.

Many of the bacterial infections that must be combatted in patients rely on bacteria with mechanisms to avoid the immune system. Most of these systems for subverting the immune system rely on the ability of bacteria to produce small molecules that allow for them to communicate with other bacteria in the local region. This process, called quorum sensing, allows for bacterial cells (particularly in cUTI and ABSSSI) to collectively start producing a thick and relatively impermeable extracellular matrix at interfaces (solid-liquid, liquid-air, solid-air). These communities are then protected from immune mechanisms within the biofilm. While the cells on the outside of this film have reduced proliferative capacity, the inner population is rapidly dividing. In both of these types of infections, the dispersal of this now dangerous number of a single type of bacteria begins to infect non-resident tissues and can lead to serious infection. The idea that viruses can live inside of bacteria and kill them only when they undergo quorum sensing to form these dangerous biofilms is novel and immensely useful. In this case, the researchers were able to show that this virus is widely infective to bacteria. If this infectivity could be tuned to specific quorum sensing molecules, this population of viruses is a potentially effective prophylactic for populations at risk for these types of infections (burn victims, transplant patients, immunocompromised patients). This was a truly astounding discovery, and I for one will be watching closely to see how this work develops.

~Kyle Enriquez

Monday, January 14, 2019

Scientists unveil promising new HIV vaccine strategy

An effective HIV vaccine has been notoriously hard to develop, in part due to the complexity and constant changes in Env, this retrovirus's envelope protein. In a recent paper published in Science Advances, scientists at Scripps Research in La Jolla, CA described a new way to stabilize Env proteins in the desired shape and mount them on virus-like nanoparticles. Preclinical data showed that this new vaccine strategy elicited robust anti-HIV antibody responses in mice and rabbits; the team is currently further optimizing and testing the vaccine in macaque models.

Env proteins are expressed on the HIV envelope in trimers which significantly change shape when infecting a cell. By modifying the HR1 portion of Env, Assoc. Prof. Jiang Zhu and his team were able to stabilize the Env trimer in its pre-infection conformation, and apply them toward diverse HIV strains from around the world.

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- Arjun

Sunday, January 13, 2019

New Vaccine Discovered in the Fight Against Ebola

Ebola, which first emerged in two simultaneous outbreaks in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, has taken over 11,500 victims since its major outbreak in 2013. The deadly virus is a part of the virus family Filoviridae and the genus of Ebolavirus. There are five different species of Ebola that have been identified within the genus (Zaire, Bundibugyo, Sudan, Reston, and Taï Forest) and two of them, Bundibugyo and Sudan, are untreatable with the vaccine that was developed in December 2016.

Previously, the rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine was costly to produce and was of no help to victims infected with the Bundibugyo or Sudan strains. However, scientists at the University of Texas Medical Branch think they have found a more effective cure. Thomas Geisbert and his colleagues developed a cocktail they call MBP134 that has successfully cured monkeys infected with the three different lethal strains of Ebola (Zaire, Bundibugyo, and Sudan).

Although human trials have not yet begun, Geisbert and his team are confident that the cocktail will work on humans and save valuable time by creating a cure that is effective regardless of the strain the patient carries. Additionally, MBP134 will save money because scientists won’t have to create a different vaccine for each independent species of Ebola.

The U.S. Army, the Canadian government, and the U.S. National Institutes of Health funded Dr. Geisbert’s research with the goal that countries affected by the virus can have a treatment ready to prevent any future Ebola outbreaks and they have made valuable progress in the fight against the virus.

-       Julio Contreras