There’s been a breakthrough in the search for a rabies vaccine after Australian researchers discovered how to stop the fatal virus shutting down the body’s immune defence.
The work by researchers from Monash University and the University of Melbourne has “solved a key scientific puzzle, laying the foundation for the development of new anti-rabies vaccines”, it was revealed on Wednesday.
Rabies kills an estimated 60,000 people a year, mostly in developing countries and is transmitted overwhelmingly through dog bites.
Dr Greg Moseley, from the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute, and Associate Professor Paul Gooley, from the Bio21 Institute, are the senior authors of a study published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Cell Reports.
“It’s been known for a long time that many viruses target the human protein STAT1 and related proteins to shut down the host’s immune defences, and it’s also assumed that this is very important for diseases,” Dr Moseley said.
The researchers produced key proteins on the viral and host sides in a test tube and kept them stable so they could investigate how they interacted.
The researchers then brought the two proteins together and discovered how to prevent it from grabbing hold of STAT1 and holding onto it, to keep it away from locations in the cell where it needs to be to activate the immune response.
“We were able to find new regions and new sites for mutations and so could target these in a virus, completely preventing it from being able to grab hold of STAT1,” Associate Professor Gooley, an expert in nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, said.