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human picornavirus b3

Researchers detect vulnerability in major human viruses

Medical science and research is moving ahead at a huge pace. A new feature in a large class of pathogenic viruses was discovered recently that allows the development of new antiviral medicines for illnesses like common cold, polio and other illnesses. It was studied and published in the open access journal PLOS Biology by Rana Abdelnabi and Johan Neyts from the University of Leuven and a team of other scientists from the University of Helsinki.

Picornaviruses are a type of viruses which include rhinoviruses and enteroviruses. Rhinoviruses are known to cause millions of cases of upper respiratory infections like cold and asthma every year whereas enteroviruses are responsible for cases like meningitis, encephalitis and polio. There is no medication or treatment for the prevention of rhinoviruses and enteroviruses.

Viruses usually interact with the host cell for replication and while doing so they often change shape. If you stabilize the particle it is thought to be the best strategy for preventing replication. The authors found a compound that stabilizes antivirus which prevents replication. The researchers performed a cryo-electron microscopy of the complex to determine the effect of the drug. Cryo-electron microscopy establishes a detailed 3D image by combining close to a thousand images.


The authors have found a previously unknown pocket on the surface of the virus which was previously not even detected even after being studied for over a decade. The compound was lodged in the pocket thereby stabilizing the virus against the change in shape that would allow it to interact with the host cell. The team has started preparing multiple variants of the antiviral molecule.

Viruses are known to mutate very quickly, changing constantly in one way or the other which poses a major challenge in developing antiviral medication as the once useful drug may become ineffective. It may also happen that the newly discovered pocket might also undergo changes and make the drug-resistant to picornaviruses to the therapies which are already developed against them. The authors have predicted that this pocket may be a crucial discovery in the field of virus replication that viruses containing mutant versions may become less viable which makes the drug relatively resistance-proof.

The work of developing these compounds and making them into effective drugs is ongoing. This study and results have opened many opportunities and avenues for the design of broad-spectrum antivirus medicines against the major human pathogens which are rhinoviruses and enteroviruses.



About the author: Kalpit Veerwal
Kalpit Veerwal is a second year Computer Science undergraduate at IIT Bombay. He is well known for being the only person to score 360/360 in JEE (Main). He is registered in the Limca Book of Records for the same. A blogger in his free time, he has also secured top ranks in various exams held in India and the world.

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