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Prof helps combat deadly flu viruses

May 14, 2009

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Professor Steven Jones is part of a research team that has developed a new computational weapon that will help destroy influenza viruses such as H1N1 (swine flu) and H5N1 (avian flu).

Other team members include researchers from the B.C. Cancer Agency’s (BCCA) Genome Sciences Centre and the University of Hong Kong’s cytokine biology group in the paediatrics and adolescent medicine department.

Jones recently joined SFU’s molecular biology and biochemistry (MBB) department and is head of bioinformatics at the BCCA genomic research facility.

He says the team is using software to screen and compare hundreds of thousands of molecular compounds with the influenza virus’ protein structures. The researchers have isolated 20 small molecule candidates, one of which can shut down both the H5N1 and H1N1 viruses in laboratory tests.

Deadlier than the current headline-grabbing H1N1 virus, H5N1 has killed millions of birds and scores of people since its discovery in 1997 and is spreading most rapidly in Southeast Asia.

"This computational approach enables us to rapidly identify molecular compounds that deactivate a protein responsible for the influenza virus’ replication," explains Jones, an SFU MBB graduate and Outstanding Alumni Award recipient. "The antiviral compounds have been as effective as conventional antiviral therapies in shutting down the replication of the H5N1 and the now-worrisome H1N1 virus. Ironically, at the time of our discovery we didn’t know the H1N1 virus would become the problem it currently is."

Jones says the team’s discovery will help speed up the development of new therapeutics against the H1N1 and H5N1 viruses. It will also help ensure that there is always a ready, reliable arsenal of therapeutics to replace conventional ones that are inevitably rendered useless as viruses adapt.

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