Scientists showed that a small protein, called retrocyclin-101 (RC-101), could potentially improve the symptoms and mortality associated with the flu and possibly other types of infectious illness as well.
Researchers from the University of Maryland in the U.S. have identified an innovative strategy for treating influenza and perhaps other infectious diseases as well.
The protein is unique in that it not only targets the flu virus itself, but also the harmful inflammation the virus triggers in the host.
"Every year, thousands of people across the country die from the flu or its complications -- despite widespread use of annual influenza vaccines," said lead author Daniel J. Prantner.
"We think that this protein could lead to medicines that could be a powerful tool in the battle against this disease, and against inflammation in general," Prantner added.
The team studied the effects of RC-101 on human cells and in an animal model of flu, using mice.
They studied human immune cells and found that RC-101 had two positive effects.
First, it blocked the flu virus from infecting the cells and second it blocked the runway inflammation that is behind most symptoms of influenza infection, such as fever, pain, lethargy, and trouble breathing.
This double action is unique, Dr. Prantner says.
Although RC-101 does not exist in humans, it does exist in some other animals, including orangutans, and provides powerful antiviral protection.
It appears to have been lost over the course of recent primate evolution. Chimpanzees and gorillas, for example, do not have it.
Principal investigator Alfredo Garzino-Demo is planning research to see whether the protein can be effective against Dengue, Zika and other viral infections that can cause damage via inflammation.
The research appears in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology.