Nav: Home

Using 'big data' to combat influenza

December 09, 2015

La Jolla, Calif., and New York, N.Y., Dec. 9, 2015 - An international team of academic and pharmaceutical scientists have tapped into publically available large-scale 'Omics' databases to identify new targets to treat influenza -- the virus that causes annual epidemics and occasional pandemics. The study, published today in Cell Host and Microbe, reflects a breakthrough approach using advanced computational designs to identify new factors that can be targeted to prevent viruses from spreading. The research team also created a website with open access for scientists to cull additional host-targets to develop the next-generation of anti-influenza drugs.

"Traditionally, physicians have treated the flu with drugs that directly block the influenza virus," said Sumit Chanda, Ph.D., co-senior author and director of the Immunity and Pathogenesis Program at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP). "Although these drugs have been helpful, many patients fail to respond because viruses, especially influenza A virus (IAV), can mutate, rendering them resistant to available drugs. Our research efforts are focused on finding unalterable host molecules -- the ones within our bodies -- that viruses hijack to spread and create full blown infections."

Influenza viruses cannot replicate on their own. They can only carry a few genes -- about a dozen or so -- compared to a human genome comprising more than 20,000 genes. To ensure their survival, flu viruses rely on co-opting molecular machines in the infected host, which they use to their advantage to grow and spread. In recent years, researchers have sought to turn the tables and fight viruses by blocking their access to host molecules.

By integrating multiple IAV host-pathogen 'Omics' databases, including one generated by the work in this study, the research team identified 20 previously unrecognized host proteins required for IAV replication. One protein, UBR4, was singled out as a pivotal host protein that the virus uses to bud off from the host cell membrane and form spherical vesicles that transmit the virus within and between individuals.

The study showed that blocking UBR4 in human cells (in vitro) and mice (in vivo) reduced IAV replication and pathogenesis, establishing proof-of-concept of the strategy to target UBR4 as an influenza treatment.

"Our work illustrates how the computational analysis of large datasets from multiple independent studies can reveal novel host factors and networks involved in virus replication as potential targets for therapeutic intervention," said Adolfo Garcia-Sastre, Ph.D., director of the Global Health and Emerging Pathogens Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. "'Big data' is no longer merely a catchphrase -- it is a real tool to help scientists address the world's most serious public health threats."

The research team has created a simplified, user-friendly web portal of the integrated data that reflects the biochemical landscape of essential influenza-host interactions. The site enables customized queries and analysis tools to find host proteins likely to play a role in influenza infection.

"Recent waves of new technologies have allowed scientists to generate unprecedented quantities of data about human disease. But now, there exists an equally large gap between those that are producing and analyzing these data, and those that apply the data for therapeutic benefit.

"We anticipate that the approach described in this study, which is packaged as an accessible web interface, will provide a bridge for those on the frontlines of biomedical discovery and therapeutic development to leverage 'big data' and achieve transformative treatments for unmet medical needs, said Chanda"
The study was also led by Drs. Renate Konig of the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut (Germany) and Silke Stertz at the University of Zurich (Switzerland), and performed in collaboration with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute, Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation, Oregon State University, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Harvard Medical School, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Columbia University, Massachusetts General Hospital, Paul-Ehrlich-Institut, Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, University of Zurich, UC San Francisco, and the German Center for Infection Research.

The study was supported by NIAID research grant U19 AI106754, the Swiss Nation Science Foundation, the AXA Research Fund, National Institute of Health P50 GM085764, 1R01AI091786 from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institute of Health, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

About Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute

Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) is an independent nonprofit research organization that blends cutting-edge fundamental research with robust drug discovery to address unmet clinical needs in the areas of cancer, neuroscience, immunity, and metabolic disorders. The Institute invests in talent, technology, and partnerships to accelerate the translation of laboratory discoveries that will have the greatest impact on patients. Recognized for its world-class NCI-designated Cancer Center and the Conrad Prebys Center for Chemical Genomics, SBP employs more than 1,100 scientists and staff in San Diego (La Jolla), Calif., and Orlando (Lake Nona), Fla.

For more information, visit us at The Institute can also be found on Facebook at and on Twitter @SBPdiscovery.

Sanford-Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute

Related Influenza Articles:

Birds become immune to influenza
An influenza infection in birds gives a good protection against other subtypes of the virus, like a natural vaccination, according to a new study.
Researchers shed new light on influenza detection
Notre Dame Researchers have discovered a way to make influenza visible to the naked eye, by engineering dye molecules to target a specific enzyme of the virus.
Maternal vaccination again influenza associated with protection for infants
How long does the protection from a mother's immunization against influenza during pregnancy last for infants after they are born?
Influenza in the tropics shows variable seasonality
Whilst countries in the tropics and subtropics exhibit diverse patterns of seasonal flu activity, they can be grouped into eight geographical zones to optimise vaccine formulation and delivery timing, according to a study published April 27, 2016 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.
Influenza viruses can hide from the immune system
Influenza is able to mask itself, so that the virus is not initially detected by our immune system.
Using 'big data' to combat influenza
Team of scientists from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute among those who combined large genomic and proteomic datasets to identify novel host targets to treat flu.
Rapidly assessing the next influenza pandemic
Influenza pandemics are potentially the most serious natural catastrophes that affect the human population.
Early detection of highly pathogenic influenza viruses
Lack of appropriate drugs and vaccines during the influenza A virus pandemic in 2009, the recent Ebola epidemic in West Africa, as well as the ongoing Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome-Coronavirus outbreak demonstrates that the world is only insufficiently prepared for global attacks of emerging infectious diseases and that the handling of such threats remains a great challenge.
Study maps travel of H7 influenza genes
In a new bioinformatics analysis of the H7N9 influenza virus that has recently infected humans in China, researchers trace the separate phylogenetic histories of the virus's genes, giving a frightening new picture of viruses where the genes are traveling independently in the environment, across large geographic distances and between species, to form 'a new constellation of genes -- a new disease, based not only on H7, but other strains of influenza.'
Influenza A potentiates pneumococcal co-infection: New details emerge
Influenza infection can enhance the ability of the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae to cause ear and throat infections, according to research published ahead of print in the journal Infection and Immunity.

Related Influenza Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#SB2 2019 Science Birthday Minisode: Mary Golda Ross
Our second annual Science Birthday is here, and this year we celebrate the wonderful Mary Golda Ross, born 9 August 1908. She died in 2008 at age 99, but left a lasting mark on the science of rocketry and space exploration as an early woman in engineering, and one of the first Native Americans in engineering. Join Rachelle and Bethany for this very special birthday minisode celebrating Mary and her achievements. Thanks to our Patreons who make this show possible! Read more about Mary G. Ross: Interview with Mary Ross on Lash Publications International, by Laurel Sheppard Meet Mary Golda...