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Virus turn protectors

Proteins of viruses may help prevent infections ranging from skin to deadly pneumonia.

health-and-fitness Updated: Aug 07, 2004 17:23 IST
Asian News International
Asian News International
PTI
Hindustantimes

Researchers at the Rockefeller University have discovered that proteins produced by viruses may help prevent bacterial infections ranging from minor skin infections and ear infections in day care centers, to deadly pneumonia in nursing homes and hospitals.

Bacterial viruses, or bacteriophage, worm their way into bacterial cells, copy themselves and then, as an exit strategy, produce enzymes that quickly destroy the bacterial cell wall, killing the bacteria and releasing the viral offspring.

"These are highly evolved enzymes that work efficiently and rapidly to kill specific bacteria. The best use of these enzymes is to decolonize humans from carrying pathogenic bacteria in certain settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes and day care centers," says Vincent Fischetti, who presented data at the American Society for Microbiology's Conference on the New Phage Biology.

"If you greatly reduce the number of bacteria that are carried by individuals in these settings, the chance of infection will be minimized or even eliminated," said Fischetti.

Scientists colonized mice with streptococcal or pneumococcal bacteria, either orally or nasally. They were able to remove the colonization completely using phage enzymes delivered in a single dose.

These enzymes are derived from viruses that infect and kill specific bacteria they target, and thus will not harm human cells or the beneficial microorganisms that live in the nasal passages and throat. The strength and specificity of these enzymes help protect against other infections, but it is not conformed whether they can reach everywhere in the body that antibiotics do or not.