Freezing the flu

If we can beat the flu at the door, why let it all the way in?

New book on the Finnish school system

Memories of the peak flu season are still fresh and poignant at Finnish latitudes, so this piece of news from the University of Helsinki bioscientists will get a thumbs up from many of us who have recently been confined to bed coughing and sneezing – provided we have the energy to raise our thumbs!

The success story of vaccination is based in something called acquired immunity: the body is startled into taking defensive action using inactivated viruses. Developing such vaccinations is, however, a never-ending race against the evolving virus. This is particularly difficult with the influenza virus, with an RNA genome having a high mutation rate.

University bioscientists at the Viikki campus and their colleagues in partner institutes are currently working incessantly to find new weapons against influenza. They are researching how the natural resistance of the human body operates when a virus attacks. “We want to know what exactly triggers the first immune responses,” says Dennis Bamford, one of the leaders of the research project.

Unlike vaccines, the innate immune response in a body is activated immediately at the beginning of a virus infection. Understanding the specifics of this chain of events will, it is hoped, lead to a discovery of means to control this response.

When a virus is attempting to infect the body, alarms are set off by the RNA molecules. In the laboratory environment the scientists are constructing versions of RNA molecules in varying lengths and single and double stranded variants.

The immune response triggered by these molecules are observed in cell cultures and later followed up by the investigation of the phenomenon in animal models. At that stage, the trials take a step closer to what happens in the human body. But before we are there, developing effective treatments always initially requires solid basic research into the host-virus interactions.

Further information on the consortium headed by Dennis Bamfort and Ilkka Julkunen » ».
Their project is part of international collaboration aiming to promote immunology research cooperation between Finland, Germany and China.

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Text: Ismo Rautiainen
Photo: 123rf
University of Helsinki, digital communications

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