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Synthetic Protein EP67 Boosts Immune System To Fight Off Flu

A synthetic protein known as protein EP67 has been found to boost the immune system and fight off the flu before the person becomes ill, San Diego State University researchers at the Donald P. Shiley BioScience Center reported in PLoS One. The authors added that people's immune systems become activated within just two hours of receiving EP67.

EP67 had been used mainly as a substance added to vaccines to help activate the immune system - an adjuvant for vaccines. However, Joy Phillips, Ph.D., and Sam Sanderson, Ph.D. wondered what effect the synthetic protein might have on its own.

Dr. Phillips, lead author, said:

"The flu virus is very sneaky and actively keeps the immune system from detecting it for a few days until you are getting symptoms. Our research showed that by introducing EP67 into the body within 24 hours of exposure to the flu virus caused the immune system to react almost immediately to the threat, well before your body normally would."

EP67 is useful as a weapon against the flu, because it works on the immune system rather than the virus itself, so it does not matter which flu strain a patient becomes infected with. Each year, new influenza (flu) vaccines target specific flu virus strains.

Flu vaccines target the influenza viruses that are predicted to be in circulation next flu season. EP67 could be useful against all strains of flu viruses, because it works on the body's immune system

Even though this study concentrated on the benefits of EP67 for flu, Phillips explained that it might also be useful for combating respiratory diseases, fungal infections, and even possibly emergency therapeutics.

Phillips said:

"When you find out you've been exposed to the flu, the only treatments available now target the virus directly but they are not reliable and often the virus develops a resistance against them. EP67 could potentially be a therapeutic that someone would take when they know they've been exposed that would help the body fight off the virus before you get sick."

If a new strain of some infectious disease appears, EP67 might be useful as a tool even before the pathogen itself has been identified. During the SARS and H1N1 outbreaks this new synthetic protein may have been extremely helpful.

Current tests are being done on laboratory animals, mainly mice, by infecting them with an influenza virus and then administering EP67 within 24 hours. They found that the treated mice did not get sick, while the untreated ones did.

Most mice infected with flu will lose approximately 20% of their body weight - this was the case with the untreated mice. The mice given EP67 lost just 6% (average).

Phillips added that some mice were given a lethal dose of flu virus, and then administered EP67 - none of them died.

As EP67 also works on animals, including birds, the authors believe EP67 may have veterinary applications.

Phillips says that future studies will look at EP67's effect on several different pathogens (organisms that cause disease). They would also like to have a better understanding of how EP67 functions within a number of different cell types in the body.

In an Abstract in the same journal, the authors wrote:

"Since protection based on innate immune induction is not restricted to any specific pathogen, EP67 may well prove equally efficacious against a wide variety of possible viral, bacterial, and fungal pathogens.

Such a strategy could be used to stop the worldwide spread of emergent respiratory diseases, including but not limited to novel strains of influenza."

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