Friday, 3 May 2013

Swapping H1N1's PA and NS into H5N1 flu helps H5N1 spread.

A new study by Hualan Chen's group at Harbin Veterinary Research Institute published in Science reveals that avian influenza A(H5N1) can acquire mammalian transmissibility if it acquires the right segments of human influenza A(H1N1). This was not a mutation study, but a whole gene segment-swapping study (creatingreassortants). 

This work was conducted in mice (for lethality studies) and guinea pigs (for transmission) and yielded different results compared to similar studies using ferret models, which did spread via aerosols or droplets.

Some have expressed their dismay at the study itself. It seemed to fly in the face of the many concerned scientists who wrote at length after similar studies, classified as 'gain of function' virus research, were described using mutations in flu genes, instead of entire gene segments. "Play" was pressed on the voluntary pause in highly pathogenic avian influenzavirus H5N1 research in Feb 2013 after a list of uber-expert flu researchers declared that sufficient time had passed, explanations, debates, reviews and revisions had occurred. 

Those scientists suitably supported and qualified to do so should get back to the bench in order to better prepare humanity for pandemic influenzas of the future. Timely. There were 3 Chinese affiliations as signatories on this article including Harbin Veterinary Research Institute's Prof Hualan Chen.

Whatever you think of this study, the outcome is a very sobering reminder of what chance could be capable of in those locations where animal and human flu viruses co-circulate. 

Fit and better-transmitting viruses can result.