Shuttering flu 'factories'

Memphis, Tennessee, May 23, 2017

Paul Thomas, Ph.D., and Heather Smallwood, Ph.D.

Corresponding author Paul Thomas, Ph.D., an associate member of the St. Jude Department of Immunology, with first author is Heather Smallwood, Ph.D., formerly of St. Jude and now of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis.

The influenza virus is like an efficiency expert who arrives to launch production of a new product and dramatically increase factory output. In this case, the "factories" are flu-infected lung cells whose output is more virus.

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital scientists have a new strategy to shutter these flu factories. The method aims to dial back production of new flu virus to ease flu symptoms and speed recovery.

Researchers showed that the flu virus revs up the metabolism of flu-infected cells. They also found drugs, including the experimental cancer drug BEZ235, that can restore normal cell metabolism. As metabolism slowed so did flu virus production. As a result, flu symptoms eased and survival of flu-infected mice increased.

In contrast, current anti-flu drugs work by directly targeting the flu virus.

"Targeting infected cells rather than the flu virus should help to avoid the problem of the virus mutating and becoming resistant to the drugs," said Paul Thomas, PhD, of the St. Jude Department of Immunology.

"Some flu strains are already resistant to available anti-viral drugs," he said. "Flu-related complications remain a leading cause of hospitalization and death worldwide for the very young, the very old and those with chronic illnesses or compromised immune systems. This is another possible tool to combat the infection."

The research appeared in Cell Reports.

Read the news release.

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