A banana a day may not keep the doctor away, but a substance originally found in bananas and carefully re-engineered by scientists could someday fight off a wide range of viruses, new research suggests. And the process used to create the virus-fighting form of the molecule may help scientists develop even more drugs, by harnessing the "sugar code" that our cells use to communicate. That code gets hijacked by viruses and other invaders. The new research focuses on a protein called banana lectin, or BanLec, that "reads" the sugars present on the outside of both viruses and cells. Five years ago, scientists showed that BanLec could keep the virus that causes AIDS from getting into cells, but the drug also caused side-effects that limited its potential use. Now, in a new paper published in the October 22, 2015 issue of Cell, an international team of scientists reports how they have created a new form of BanLec that still fights viruses in mice, but does not cause irritation and unwanted inflammation.” In the new work, researchers succeeded in peeling apart these two side-effects by carefully studying the molecule in many ways, and pinpointing the tiny part that triggered these side effects. Then, they engineered a new version of BanLec, called H84T, by slightly changing the gene that acts as the instruction manual for building it. The result is a form of BanLec that worked against the viruses that cause AIDS, hepatitis C, and influenza in tests in tissue and blood samples, without causing inflammation. The researchers also showed that H84T BanLec protected mice from getting infected by flu virus. The new Cell article is titled “Engineering a Therapeutic Lectin by Uncoupling Mitogenicity from Antiviral Activity.
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