A newly developed antiviral could lead the cure of numerous viruses

Dr. Benhur Lee

By Alexey Kushnerov

Senior Staff Writer

Published: Saturday, February 6, 2010 

A team of researchers from several institutes teamed up recently to develop a broad-spectrum antiviral compound, dubbed LJ001, capable of stopping several viruses including: Ebola, HIV, Hepatitis C, West Nile virus, Rift Valley fever and yellow fever.  The team included scientists from the University of Texas, UCLA, Harvard University, the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and Cornell University.

First described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, UCLA researchers, led by Dr. Benhur Lee, identified LJ001 after screening more than 30,000 molecules to test their ability in stopping the Nipah virus — a fairly uncommon disease that can be transmitted from animals to humans and causes fever and muscular pain.  However, when subsequent experiments by UCLA researchers revealed that LJ001 also blocked viruses that were physically similar to Nipah, the compound was taken to Alexander Freiberg, director of UTMB’s Robert E. Shope M.D. Laboratory and a specialist in deadly viruses.  “Once we started testing more and more, we realized that it was only targeting enveloped viruses,” said Dr. Freiberg in an interview with ScienceDaily.com.

An enveloped virus is a virus that has an independent metabolism and is able to replicate or multiply only within a living host cell.  “We followed up and determined that [LJ001] was somehow changing the lipid envelope to prevent fusion of the virus particle with the host cell,” said Dr. Freiburg. The lipid envelope, which surrounds the virus’ genetic code, helps the virus enter the host cell.  Unlike most antibiotics, most existing antivirals cannot treat different infections. However, if successful, LJ001 will be one of the first wide-spectrum antivirals.

While additional experiments indicated that LJ001 also interacts with cell membranes of healthy cells in a manner similar to the virus envelopes, it caused no long-term damage or impairment.   “At antiviral concentrations, any damage it does to the cell’s membrane can be repaired, while damage to static viral envelopes, which have no inherent regenerative capacity, is permanent and irreversible,” said Lee.  If this compound has the same effects in humans as it did in mice, then it will revolutionize the way to treat viruses and greatly expand the lifespan of individuals. Vaccinations, a preemptive approach to many viral infections, would be long in the past and LJ001 could be prescribed just as readily and commonly as antibiotics.

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