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Jul 30, 2008

Preventing flu fatalities by stopping immune system overreaction

Posted by in categories: biological, defense, existential risks, futurism, lifeboat

Researchers from Imperial College in London, England, isolated the receptor in the lungs that triggers the immune overreaction to flu.

With the receptor identified, a therapy can be developed that will bind to the receptor, preventing the deadly immune response. Also, by targeting a receptor in humans rather than a particular strain of flu, therapies developed to exploit this discovery would work regardless of the rapid mutations that beguile flu vaccine producers every year.

The flu kills 250,000 to 500,000 people in an average year with epidemics reaching 1 to 2 million deaths (other than the spanish flu which was more severe

This discovery could lead to treatments which turn off the inflammation in the lungs caused by influenza and other infections, according to a study published today in the journal Nature Immunology. The virus is often cleared from the body by the time symptoms appear and yet symptoms can last for many days, because the immune system continues to fight the damaged lung. The immune system is essential for clearing the virus, but it can damage the body when it overreacts if it is not quickly contained.

The immune overreaction accounts for the high percentage of young, healthy people who died in the vicious 1918 flu pandemic. While the flu usually kills the very young or the sickly and old, the pandemic flu provoked healthy people’s stronger immune systems to react even more profoundly than usual, exacerbating the symptoms and ultimately causing between 50 and 100 million deaths world wide. These figures from the past make the new discovery that much more important, as new therapies based on this research could prevent a future H5N1 bird flu pandemic from turning into a repeat of the 1918 Spanish flu.

In the new study, the researchers gave mice infected with influenza a mimic of CD200, or an antibody to stimulate CD200R, to see if these would enable CD200R to bring the immune system under control and reduce inflammation.

The mice that received treatment had less weight loss than control mice and less inflammation in their airways and lung tissue. The influenza virus was still cleared from the lungs within seven days and so this strategy did not appear to affect the immune system’s ability to fight the virus itself.

The researchers hope that in the event of a flu pandemic, such as a pandemic of H5N1 avian flu that had mutated to be transmissible between humans, the new treatment would add to the current arsenal of anti-viral medications and vaccines. One key advantage of this type of therapy is that it would be effective even if the flu virus mutated, because it targets the body’s overreaction to the virus rather than the virus itself.

In addition to the possible applications for treating influenza, the researchers also hope their findings could lead to new treatments for other conditions where excessive immunity can be a problem, including other infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases and allergy.

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  • Charlein Storm on September 6, 2008 4:14 pm

    Since I am high risk, I would like to hear more about this research as it becomes available. I would like to know what the projection is for possible human testing and of course if it is tested on humans, what is the mortality rate? I think this research could be helpful for asthmatics or other types of lung allergies or adverse reactions by the lungs from a variety of stimuli.

  • Rob Williams on November 6, 2008 12:56 pm

    This may be hard to believe — I’ve never had the flu. I’ve worked in office environments most of my life with lots of people and flu has raged around me at various times. I never get it. I am now 62 — 4 years ago my wife talked me into getting a flu shot. I had a slight reaction but not too bad. The next year I had another shot and this time the swelling and pain was extreme. I also had a slight temperature rise for a few days. I refuse to have another shot and keep thinking maybe someone would like to look at my antibodies or ? .

  • cyberbian on May 22, 2009 2:27 am

    I have read that a swine flu vaccine would increase the body’s immune response to swine flu.

    I have also read that death from swine flu occurs when the body’s immune system over reacts, destroying the lungs.

    Question: Does Swine Flu vacine increase the probability of the immune system overreacting and killing the patient?

  • prevent flu on August 6, 2009 11:40 am

    The immune system overreaction sounds pretty serious. I heard that it triggers lung clotting. At first I thought the media was just fear mongering, but this really is some pretty scary stuff when you start doing your research.