A research article in the May 13, 2011 issue of Science demonstrates the use of computational methods to design new antiviral proteins not found in nature, but capable of targeting specific surfaces of flu virus molecules. One goal of such protein design would be to block molecular mechanisms involved in cell invasion and virus reproduction. Computationally designed, surface targeting, antiviral proteins might also have diagnostic and therapeutic potential in identifying and fighting viral infections. The lead authors of the study are Drs. Sarel J. Fleishman and Timothy Whitehead of the University of Washington (UW) Department of Biochemistry, and Dr. Damian C. Ekiert from the Department of Molecular Biology and the Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology at The Scripps Research Institute. The senior authors are Dr. Ian Wilson from Scripps and Dr. David Baker from the UW and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The researchers note that additional studies are required to see if such designed proteins can help in diagnosing, preventing, or treating viral illness. What the study does suggest is the feasibility of using computer design to create new proteins with antiviral properties. "Influenza presents a serious public health challenge," the researchers noted, "and new therapies are needed to combat viruses that are resistant to existing anti-viral medications or that escape the body's defense systems." The scientists focused their attention on the section of the flu virus known as the hemagglutinin stem region. They concentrated on trying to disable this part because of its function in invading the cells of the human respiratory tract.
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