An international team of scientists have engineered protein banana lectin, or BanLec, to create a new version that can fight off a range of viruses without unwanted side effects.
The genetically engineered version has been called H84T and worked against the viruses that cause AIDS, hepatitis C and influenza in tests in tissue and blood samples.
The researchers also showed that H84T BanLec protected mice from getting infected by the flu virus.
“What we’ve done is exciting because there is potential for BanLec to develop into a broad spectrum antiviral agent, something that is not clinically available to physicians and patients right now,” said co-senior author Dr David Markovitz, Professor of Internal Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School.
“But it’s also exciting to have created it by engineering a lectin molecule for the first time, by understanding and then targeting the structure.”
The team included scientists from Germany, Ireland, Canada, Belgium and the US, funded by the US and European governments, and by foundations.
Their efforts helped them understand how BanLec connects to both viruses and to sugar molecules on the outside of cells, and how it leads to irritation and other side effects by triggering a response from T cells.
“Better flu treatments are desperately needed,” added Markovitz. “Tamiflu is only modestly effective, especially in critically ill patients, and influenza can develop resistance to it. But we also hope that BanLec could become useful in situations such as emergency pandemic response, and military settings, where the precise cause of an infection is unknown but a viral cause is suspected.”
The team continues to test H84T BanLec against other viruses in mice and tissue samples.