November 15, 2015

Research Roundup: Targeting cattle to fight sleeping sickness, antibodies that protect against distantly related viruses, and more

Senior Program Assistant
Photo: PATH/Eric Becker
Photo: PATH/Eric Becker

A new study suggests that the use of anti-parasitic drugs and insecticides in cattle can reduce human cases of Trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) by as much as 90 percent. Sleeping sickness is caused by parasites and transmitted by tsetse flies, and while cattle are not susceptible to human sleeping sickness, they do carry the parasite. The study, conducted in rural Uganda, involved injecting 500,000 cattle with two anti-parasitic drugs and spraying their legs, which the tsetse flies bite, with an insecticide. The team estimates that the program saved US$15 to $60 million in health care costs and increased Uganda’s gross national product by $400 million.

Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have identified antibodies—immune system proteins—that could protect against or treat multiple alphaviruses, including Chikungunya. The antibodies are known as “broadly neutralizing antibodies,” a term which normally refers to antibodies that target different strains of the same virus (i.e., HIV, Hepatitis C) rather than different viruses altogether. The team, led by Dr. Michael Diamond, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases and Vaccine Development at Washington University School of Medicine, evaluated 60 human and mouse antibodies for Chikungunya and identified 10 that are active against three or more alphaviruses. The two most potent antibodies were then used as a treatment for mice infected with Chikungunya as well as two other alphaviruses—O’nyong’nyong and Mayaro virus—and the team confirmed that the antibodies reduced the symptoms of the infections. The team is using their findings to develop more antibodies which will then be tested on animals.

New research conducted by professors Drs. Bruce Freedman and Ron Harty of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine could pave the way for treatments against Ebola, among other viruses. Viruses utilize their hosts’ cells to mature, reproduce, and spread and Freedman and Harty have developed a mutated gene that blocks the pathways that many viruses use to communicate. By blocking those pathways, the virus remains trapped, unable to leave the cell and infect other cells. The team will next test their approach in mice with the ultimate goal of developing an anti-viral medicine effective against any virus that uses those same pathways to communicate.

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