Tag Archives: Viruses

Banana “wonder drug”

Bananas are a good source of a wide range of vitamins and minerals, they can help battle depression, ward off muscle cramps, lower blood pressure and protect against heart attack.

Until recently, that’s all bananas were; it was recently discovered that bananas could provide a new weapon against viruses.

According to a recently published study by Cell, an international team of scientists, a protein found in bananas known as lectin,or BanLec, is being transformed into a medication that may someday be used to fight viral infections and diseases.

This “wonder drug” can disarm and kill off a wide variety of aggressive viruses – including hepatitis C, flu and AIDS. BanLec works by clinging to sugar molecules found of the surface of a portion of the world’s deadliest viruses and keeps these out of cells, preventing infection.

However, when scientists isolated the protein for therapeutic trials, BanLec was shown to also cause irritation and inflammation, so an international team concentrated on the protein and identified the part that brought about those side effects.

“According to a recently published study by Cell – an international team of scientists –a protein found in bananas known as lectin — or BanLec — is being transformed into a medication that may someday be used to fight viral infections and diseases.”

With some genetic tinkering, they have created a new version of BanLec called H84T –tested on mice – which maintained the proteins anti-viral properties without the unwanted immune response of irritation and inflammation.

Writing in the journal Cell, the group says it could be one of the first broad-spectrum antiviral agents to treat an assortment of viruses and infections, including HIV, hepatitis and even the common avian influenza bug.

Co-senior author David Markovitz, at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, cautions that you can’t get the benefits of BanLec by eating a horde of bananas.

Markovitz says the new and improved version, a modified adaptation of the chemical found in the fruit, of BanLec must be injected.

Initially, Markovitz says, the banana protein was being researched as a microbicide, an agent that women can use before sex as a cream or gel to protect them against HIV infection.

In any case, it was shown to disarm a number of viruses, which then essentially wither away since they are not able to infect cells.

The sugar molecule that BanLec harnesses offers an interesting and unique strategy for fighting viruses, one that researchers say could be used to develop other antiviral medications.

The scientists believe the drug may even work on Ebola, as all of these viruses are covered in similar sugar molecules that BanLec clings to.

As of right now, Markovitz says there are no plans to conduct human clinical trials. And several more years of research must be conducted before BanLec can be tested in humans.

It is hoped the new medicine will become a vital ‘broad spectrum antiviral’ that could protect humanity from some of the most vicious diseases.

Could pig organs save lives?

This month, scientists gathered at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington to talk about Crispr, a new method for editing genes.

In the 1990s, researchers explored the likelihood of using pig organs in humans, a technique known as xenotransplantation. Experts hoped that pig organs could be cleansed of viruses and other pathogens that might harm their human hosts. That research stalled in 1998, when Jay Fishman and his colleagues discovered a strange new danger.

Pig cells contain multiple copies of embedded viruses called porcine endogenous retroviruses, or PERVs. PERVs can produce full-blown viruses able to infect other pig cells. When researchers mixed pig and human cells, they found the pig viruses could also contaminate human cells; causing cancer or other diseases.

Recently developed methods for editing genes could make pig organs safe for human transplant.

Among the scientists describing the recent scientific advances was one of Crispr’s pioneers, George Church of Harvard Medical School. Dr. Church’s experiment had its origins in the shortage of available human organs for transplants. Thousands of people die each year waiting for hearts, lungs and livers.

“In the 1990s, researchers explored the likelihood of using pig organs in humans, a technique known as xenotransplantation.”

“It’s a cruel situation currently, that someone who needs a heart transplant has to pin their chance for a healthy life on the untimely death of another person,” said David A. Dunn, an expert on transplantation at the State University of New York at Oswego.

In a typical experiment, scientists used Crispr to alter a single gene. But in recent work with pig cells, Dr. Church and his colleagues used Crispr to simultaneously disable all 62 of the viruses. The team engineered a new set of genes that produced enzymes that hunted for PERVs and snipped out bits of the viral DNA.

After the experiment, the viruses in the pig genome showed little activity. And despite the drastic genomic surgery, the chromosomes showed no irregularities and the cells grew normally.

The researchers hope that this achievement may someday make it possible to use pig organs for transplantation into humans, which will reduce the amount of deaths per year of people waiting for available organs for transplant.

We should assume and expect scientists to promptly develop their gene editing skills in the years to come.

Preventing the college cold

College is all fun and games until someone in the dorm gets sick, then it spreads like wildfire. Dorms are notorious for spreading disease quickly. Students live so close together that it’s nearly impossible to avoid the spread of germs. If you get sick easily, it’s important to do all you can to stay healthy. Here are some things to do if you or a roommate becomes sick. Continue reading Preventing the college cold

Monkeying around with Ebola

How likely are you to survive an Ebola infection? Not very likely, with mortality rates as high as 90 percent for certain strains of the virus.

There are no approved treatments or vaccines for the virus, but a new discovery allows scientists to predict whether a patient will react well to a vaccine currently in development. Continue reading Monkeying around with Ebola