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Infectious Diseases

Updated 26 May 2020

Could researchers have found the Achilles heel of viruses?

As researchers are trying to establish a successful way to fight Covid-19, a team from Aarhus University might have discovered the weak point of viruses.

Although we are still learning a lot about SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that’s causing havoc around the globe, we know that viruses all have a similar purpose – to live inside a host and to replicate by hijacking human cells, leading to illness.

Viruses have a way to circumvent the body’s natural immune system, enabling them to replicate inside their hosts. While people mostly recover from common viral infections such as seasonal influenza without any lasting ill effects, Covid-19 is more virulent and there is as yet no cure or vaccine available.  

However, a research partnership between Aarhus University, The University of Oxford and the University of Gothenburg – under the leadership of Professor and virologist Søren Riis Paludan from the Department of Biomedicine at Aarhus University, Denmark – might be bringing us closer to understanding the way viruses attack humans.

What did the research entail?

The new study was recently published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine. For this research, the team investigated how the herpes simplex virus circumvents the human immune system and causes a rare infection of the brain.

"In the study, we found that the herpes simplex virus is capable of inhibiting a protein in the cells, known as STING, which is activated when there is a threat. When STING is inhibited, the body's immune system is also inhibited – the virus thereby puts the brakes on the body's brake, which is supposed to prevent us from becoming ill. Other viruses also make use of the same principle," stated Søren Riis Paludan in a press release.

Why the herpes virus if we are dealing with a coronavirus?

While the study focused on herpes viruses, Paludan pointed out that there are parallels with the coronavirus. According to Paludan, the protein that the herpes virus inhibits is also inhibited by many other viruses, including SARS-CoV-2.

Could this help us vanquish Covid-19?

Paludan hopes that his team’s research results can be of use in the development of an antiviral drug for SARS-CoV-2. 

According to him, the study suggests that they have found the Achilles heel in the virus and the way it infects the human body.

“Our results lead us to hope that if we can prevent viruses from blocking STING, we can prevent the virus from replicating. That could pave the way for new principles for the treatment of herpes, influenza and also the coronavirus." he stated.

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