Structure of virus gives drug possibility

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind., March 1 (UPI) — U.S. scientists say knowledge of the structure of a virus that causes a potentially fatal disease in children could bring antiviral drugs to treat the disease.

Purdue researchers have created three-dimensional reconstruction of enterovirus 71, which causes hand, foot and mouth disease common around the world but which can reportedly sometimes cause potentially fatal encephalitis.

Their study, along with one from Oxford University, shows a possible path to creating antiviral drugs to treat the infection, a Purdue release said Thursday.

“Taken together, the findings in both papers are useful when you are trying to stop the virus from infecting host cells,” Purdue biological science Professor Michael G. Rossmann said. “The common theme is that they both report for the first time on the structure of this virus, and this tells us how to design compounds to fight the infection.”

Both teams used a technique called X-ray crystallography to determine the virus’s precise structure, showing similarities to features on related enteroviruses including poliovirus.

The disease is found primarily in the Asia-Pacific region. Of the 427,278 cases of the disease recorded in mainland China between January and May 2010, 5,454 cases were classified as severe, with 260 deaths, the World Health Organization says.

“Right now, there isn’t much you can do for a child who contracts encephalitis,” Purdue researcher Richard J. Kuhn said.

Spencer Cameron