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Immune system 'fights viruses within cells'

2nd November 2010

New UK-based research has made a breakthrough in understanding how our immune systems fight viruses such as the common cold, gastroenteritis and the 'winter vomiting' bug.

A study carried out by the Medical Research Council (MRC) found that antibodies are able to attack viral diseases from within infected cells.

Previously, it was believed that the body's immune system could only fight viruses outside of its cells or by blocking their entry to the cells in the first place.

The project, which was led by the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, discovered that a protein called TRIM21 causes viruses to be pulled into a 'disposal system' that ejects them from cells before they can do damage.

Furthermore, it showed that increasing the level of TRIM21 makes the process more effective, which could provide a basis for improved antiviral medications.

Dr Leo James, the study's lead author, commented: 'Doctors have plenty of antibiotics to fight bacterial infections but few antiviral drugs. We are excited that our discoveries may open multiple avenues for developing new antiviral drugs.'

Last month, the new GBP 16 million Influenza Resource Centre and UK Stem Cell Bank, which was part-funded by the MRC and aims to develop new antiviral treatments, was opened in Hertfordshire.
 

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