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Online Discussion: Tracking new emerging diseases and the next pandemic

Chickengunya Research

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    Posted: May 17 2018 at 3:27am

Researchers a step closer to finding a treatment for debilitating virus

Scientists have discovered how a virus which causes debilitating joint pain gets into cells, leading to hopes of finding a cure.

Chikungunya, which is transmitted to humans via a bite from the infected Aedes aegypti or Aedes albopictus mosquito, causes fever and severe joint pain that lasts for about a week. But in up to half of patients it can cause a debilitating form of arthritis that lasts for months or sometimes years.

The disease has been found in more than 60 countries around the world and is particularly prevalent in the Americas where there were more than 300,000 cases in 2016. Climate change and the spread of the mosquito further north mean that cases have emerged in Europe. 

There is no cure for this neglected tropical disease – doctors advise pain relief and fluids – but in recent years more research has been devoted to finding a treatment and vaccine.

Now, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine have used the Crispr gene editing tool to locate the receptor which enables chikungunya to get into cells.

The receptor is located on cells that build cartilage, muscle and bone and could go some way to explaining why patients experience such painful symptoms.

Around 30 to 50 per cent of cases go into chronic arthritis that can last months to yearsMichael Diamond, lead author

Researchers writing in the medical journal Nature found that chikungunya uses the Mxra8 protein to get into cells. They tested mice to see whether they could prevent the infection getting in by flooding the virus with what they described as “decoys”.

They found that after a few days the swelling in the feet of the mice that had been flooded with the decoys had gone down more than in those who had received the placebo.

The results suggest that a compound that blocks the virus from attaching to Mxra8 on the surface of cells could prevent or reduce the painful symptoms.

The researchers also found that the same process could work in similar viruses such as Mayaro, Ross River, O'nyongnyong and Barmah Forest.

Michael Diamond, lead author of the study and professor of medicine at the university, said the disease was spreading around the world. There was a large outbreak on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean in 2005-06 and the disease has spread to South and Central America. There have also been cases in France and Italy.

“Around 30 to 50 per cent of cases go into chronic arthritis that can last months to years. It can affect people’s ability to work and live their lives normally,” he said.

Prof Diamond said that the research could help find a treatment for chikungunya

“We’re trying to figure out on the atomic level how the receptor engages the virus. This will be critical to designing new drugs,” he said.

Source, links, photos and video:   https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/05/16/researchers-step-closer-finding-treatment-debilitating-virus/
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