Adam Gregor/ShutterstockThe Zika virus was terrifying enough when it was known simply as a mosquito-borne illness. Turns out it’s also sexually-transmittable, and if contracted by a pregnant woman, the virus can cause the devastating birth-defect, microcephaly. Here’s what you need to know about the Zika virus. Other serious illnesses like dengue fever, yellow fever, and hepatitis C present serious threats to the entire world, which is why researchers have been anxiously searching for ways to protect us against infection.
Now British researchers may have made an earth-shattering breakthrough: In a study from the University of Southampton, researchers report they have discovered a single receptor cell in the human body that can recognize all of these viruses. This discovery is a major step towards discovering a vaccine that can use the body’s own natural killer cells (NK cells) to shut these viruses down before they even get a chance to happen. The findings were recently published in the journal, Science Immunology. Lead researcher Salim Khakoo, MD, a professor of hepatology at the University, explained to EurekAlert that the findings are very exciting but are still at an early stage and will require further studies and clinical trials in order to move forward definitively.
To test the receptor cell, known as KIR2DS2, the researchers first demonstrated it could be used to help clear patients of the hepatitis C virus. The researchers then were able to demonstrate that the same mechanism should apply to all the viruses related to hepatitis C—called flaviviruses. The group includes Zika, dengue fever, and yellow fever, and Japanese encephilitis.
This group of viruses have been particularly tough to target with a vaccine because they can so readily adapt to and resist the body’s defense mechanisms. The newly discovered receptor cell, KIR2DS2, targets a portion of the viruses that doesn’t change form, opening the door to a potential vaccine that could protect against the entire family of viruses. Even more exciting: The researchers believe a similar process may be involved in cancer cells, and KIR2DS2 may offer the means for stopping and treating tumors.
“Cancer treatments that use the body’s own immune system are becoming more common,” Dr. Khakoo pointed out. “Our findings present a completely new strategy for virus therapeutics which could be easily translated into the field of cancer. The next few years are going to be very exciting in this field.”
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