Scientists have pinpointed a mechanism that helps flu viruses mutate rapidly, which could lead to new ways to fight the flu.
Because flu viruses mutate quickly, flu vaccines have to be redesigned every year.
The MIT researchers found that to mutate rapidly, flu viruses use a group of proteins called chaperones in infected cells in the host (a person or animal with the flu).
Blocking flu viruses from using the host cells’ chaperones could help prevent the viruses from developing resistance to existing drugs and vaccines, the study authors said.
“It’s relatively easy to make a drug that kills a virus, or an antibody that stops a virus from propagating, but it’s very hard to make one that the virus doesn’t promptly escape from once you start using it,” senior study author Matthew Shoulders, an associate professor of chemistry, said in an MIT news release.
“Our data suggest that, at some point in the future, targeting host chaperones might restrict the ability of a virus to evolve and allow us to kill viruses before they become drug-resistant,” he said.
The study was published recently in the journal eLife.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers flu prevention tips.