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14th June 2016

Oxford scientists aim to uncover the Achilles heel of the flu virus

The research team of Professor Ervin Fodor, Exeter College Professorial Fellow in Molecular Virology, is working to uncover the molecular mechanisms by which the flu virus reproduces itself.

Influenza viruses altogether affect 5%-10% of the adult population and 20-30% of children each year. These annual epidemics are estimated to result in about approximately 3 to 5 million cases of severe illness, leading to between 250,000 to 500,000 deaths around the world.

Crucial to the reproduction of flu is an enzyme called RNA polymerase. In order to cripple the RNA polymerase it is necessary to understand its structure. Professor Fodor and his research group at the Fodor Lab in Oxford recently revealed the structure of the entire polymerase, as well as the balletic movements of the flexible parts of the enzyme.

The research group is now beginning to understand how the enzyme interacts with the viral genome and which parts of the enzyme are important during different stages of the copying process. In time this may reveal the enzyme’s weaknesses and make it possible to exploit them and develop a drug that can help effectively treat flu and get rid of it once and for all.

Professor Fodor said: “The polymerase we have mapped is key to the virus’s ability to replicate. If we can understand its structure, we can better understand how it works. This means we could be able to create drugs that target this polymerase to prevent the virus spreading. Understanding the structure also means we may be better placed to understand the processes by which bird flu viruses adapt to infect humans and cause viral outbreaks.”

You can read more about the work of Professor Fodor’s research team and the challenges they face at The Conversation and the Diamond website.

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