Researchers Discover Protein that Could Minimize the Impact of Flu Pandemics

SOCS4 protein shown to minimize the immune systems’ overreaction to the flu. Could this knowledge minimise the impact of flu pandemics?

Researchers from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical research, Melbourne, have discovered a protein that regulates the production of cytokines. Cytokines are signalling cells, and play an important role in the body’s response to infection or trauma.

But overproduction of cytokines can lead to sever inflammation as part of what is known as a ‘cytokine storms.’ These storms are believed to be the primary cause of death in young and healthy people who contract influenza.

Dr Lukasz Kedzierski, Dr Sandra Nicholson, collegues, in collaboration with Associate Professor Katherine Kedzierska found that the removal of the protein SOCS4 (suppressors of cytokine signalling 4) reduced the speed at which the body coukd effectively respond to infections.

They found that “following influenza infection, the immune system did not respond as quickly as expected, and initially sent key immune cells to the wrong location in the body,…In addition, inflammatory cytokines began to accumulate in the lungs, leading to a cytokine storm that causes significant damage to the tissue.”

The importance of this finding can be seen in the effects of a cytokine storm. these periods of excessive cytokine production can result in the increased severity of symptoms and even multiple organ failure.

The fruits of this research could help towards the development of drugs to control the effects in patients with severe cases of flu. The research could be incorporated into the next generation of pandemic flu vaccines, designed to mitigate the effects of pandemic flu strains in the run up to the production of a tailor made flu vaccine.

See the media release here.

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