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DDN: Wright State researchers land $1.8M, five-year NIH grant

Kate Excoffin and her research team

Excerpt from the Dayton Daily News

A research team at Wright State University will study viral respiratory infections with a $1.8 million, five-year grant.

The team is led by Kate Excoffon, professor of biology in the College of Science and Mathematics. The award is from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Adenovirus infections most commonly cause illness of the respiratory system. Symptoms range from the common cold to pneumonia, as well as intestinal and serious eye infections.

Excoffon and her team have been investigating viral receptors, which must be present on human cells in order for the virus to attach to them and cause infection. The more viral receptors, the more potential for infection

The researchers have discovered a cellular protein that interacts with the adenovirus receptor in two different ways. One part of the protein reduces the number of receptors. The other part increases them. The discovery was published in the Journal of Virology in September 2012.

“We believe we’re tapping into a natural mechanism that the body has developed and evolved over time to be able to up- and down-regulate the viral receptor,” Excoffon stated in a press release. “What we’ve built are small, peptide-based molecules that can enter the cell, bind to the part of the protein that protects the receptor so more receptor is degraded and the cell is protected from viral infection.”

Excoffon envisions an anti-viral therapy that would involve the use of an inhaler, such as those used by asthma patients.

“You would take a puff and down-regulate the receptor, causing fewer receptors and prohibiting the virus from infecting cells during exposure,” she stated.).

The therapy may have important potential for transplant patients – people who receive new organs or stem cells, which can act as a repair system for the body by replenishing tissues, according to the statement.

The immune systems of transplant patients are often intentionally suppressed to prevent organ rejection. Adenovirus can be present in a patient’s body or enter with a transplanted organ, which gives the virus an opportunity to replicate and spread. If adenovirus becomes abundant in the bloodstream of children receiving stem cell transplants, for example, the death rate can be as high as 80 percent.

The researchers stated the potential inhaler therapy given early on could prevent infection by reducing the viral receptors.