Hope for croup victims

Monday 10 January 2000

Scots scientists are one step closer to wiping out one of the world’s most distressing childhood conditions, after being awarded a grant by an American pharmaceutical company to develop new drugs for croup.

Professor Garry Taylor from the University of St Andrews has been awarded US$400,000 by Alabama-based Biocryst Pharmaceuticals Inc to design new treatments for the condition, where infection of the larynx (voicebox) and upper trachea (windpipe) leads to a distinctive cough, often compared to a seal’s bark.

Croup is caused by a parainfluenza virus which is related to the better known influenza virus which is currently reaching epidemic levels. Infection by such viruses generally occurs very early in life with at least 60% of children infected by the age of two and 80% by the age of four. Such viruses can also infect adults, and because the virus alters its appearance to evade our immune systems, reinfection occurs in later life.

The project will involve Professor Taylor and his team in the Centre for Biomolecular Sciences examining a viral protein called hemagglutinin-neuraminidase (or HN) which is the key protein in infection. HN is involved in attaching the virus to cells and in triggering the fusion process that leads to the viral genes being placed into the infected cell where multiple new copies of the virus are then made. The key role of the protein in infection makes it a good target for therapeutic intervention.

Professor Taylor said, “The project will lead to the design of new drugs which will hinder the normal role of HN and, in turn, alleviate the suffering of thousands of children. There are no effective vaccines available as yet, so the route we are taking is to block the infection and spread of the virus by inhibiting the virus’s Achilles heal”.

As part of the project, the St Andrews team will collaborate with synthetic chemists, molecular modellers, structural biologists and biochemists, with the University’s long-term collaborators in Memphis carrying out biological testing of the compounds made by Biocryst.

Issued by Beattie Media on behalf of the University of St Andrews.

Category Research

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