Saturday, July 7, 2007

Antibodies that check Sars found

NEW DELHI: In a breakthrough that could herald the first step towards finding a cure for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars), scientists have identified two human antibodies that can neutralise the viral strains that caused the two outbreaks between 2002 and 2004.

Scientists from institutions in the US, Switzerland and Australia, led by experts from the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, carried out studies in mice and human cells in the lab with a sample of the virus isolated from the outbreak in humans.

The research showed that both antibodies were able to bind to and block the part of the Sars virus — glycoprotein (called the receptor binding domain) — that allows it to attach to and enter cells, thus disabling the virus. Both antibodies also disabled a sample of the virus isolated from wild civets, but with less potency.
While one of the antibodies called S230.15 was found in the blood of a patient who had been infected with Sars and later recovered, another called m396 was identified from the library of human antibodies developed from the blood of 10 healthy volunteers.

Because humans already have immune cells that express antibodies that are very close to those that can effectively neutralise the Sars virus, m396 could be fished out from healthy volunteers. Further analysis of the structure of m396 suggested that it could successfully disable all known forms of the Sars virus.

Currently, there is no treatment to combat the Sars virus which first emerged in China in late 2002 and spread globally in 2003, with its last occurrence being reported from China in mid-2004. In all, the respiratory disease that was thought to have occurred when the virus jumped from an animal host to humans, killed over 800 people and infected more than 8,000 globally.

"This study is important because the viral strain that caused the outbreak in people in 2002 probably no longer exists in nature. What we need to prove for any vaccine, therapeutic, antibody or drug is that it is effective not only against the strain of Sars virus isolated from people, but also against a variety of animal strains, because animals will be a likely sources for the re-emergence of the Sars virus," said Kanta Subbarao from NIAID, whose laboratory verified the efficacy of the anti-Sars antibodies in animal models.

The investigators tested the antibodies in a mouse model. Mice were given an injection of one of the two antibodies, and exposed 24 hours later either to samples of the Sars virus from one of the two outbreaks or to virus isolated from civets. Mice that received m396 or S230.15 were fully protected from infection from humans, they found. Mice that received either antibody were also protected against infection by Sars from civets, though not completely.

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