Protein shown to prevent flu

by Elisse Miller

Senior Staff Photographer Dustin Michelson

Researchers at San Diego State may have discovered a protein that would offer a new cure for the flu virus. This synthetic protein, dubbed EP67, “induces the innate immune system, which is the most primitive immune system; it’s the first line of defense,” research assistant professor of SDSU’s Donald P. Shiley BioScience Center Libby Virts, Ph.D said.

A team of four including Virts and another research assistant professor of SDSU’s Donald P. Shiley BioScience Center Joy Phillips, Ph.D, was investigating the use of EP67 in flu vaccines when Phillips decided to expand on the nature of EP67.

“EP67 has been part of trying to make a better flu vaccine … you still had your normal flu vaccine but maybe it would be better because you had this protein attached to it,” Phillip said. “I had thought that we should test to make sure given EP67 showed an average of only six perecent weight loss.

In a second test, the mice that were given a lethal dose of the flu vaccine, only one group received the protein 24 hours later. Those who received no treatment died, but those who were administered EP67 lived. The bottom line, as Phillips puts it is, “if they [the mice] got the EP67 either the day before they were infected with the flu, the day of the infection, or the day after the infection, they didn’t get sick.” Flu vaccines only target a few of the most popular flu strains of that season and when that it does or doesn’t do anything by itself, not really anticipating it would, and certainly not to the extent that it did.”

During laboratory testing, it was discovered that the administration of the protein into the body of mice proved to be effective in stopping the flu virus before it showed any symptoms. The use of EP67 stops the flu virus within the first few days of infection when physical symptoms are not yet present. Mice who had the flu lost approximately 20 perecent of their body weight, a common symptom of the flu in mice. Those who were specific viruses are targeted, they can evolve and create a resistance to vaccines. But EP67 is unique because it doesn’t aim to harm the virus, but rather strengthen the immune system, making its coverage far more expansive.

“There’s so many different possible ways to take it, because of the way this protein works … by starting up your own immune system, it should work against lots of disease, not just the flu … And it should work in both humans and animals, so there could be a significant veterinary medicine application as well,” Phillips said.

SDSU has played a massive role in this discovery. “Certainly one thing that has been fantastic is that people have been glad we’re here and people have been supportive of the research … Just the overall interest in promoting the research has been wonderful,” Phillips said.

Professors made the goal of the research more tangible with their support and collaboration. “The professors have been extremely willing to collaborate … Which has expanded what we know now about EP67, what it does and what its potential might be,” Virts said.