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Junin and Machupo belong to the family, composed of more than 30 viruses.Of those, five are known to cause human disease in South America.
Now, in a small but illuminating study, Harvard Medical School scientists report that antibodies made in response to a vaccine against one hemorrhagic fever virus—Junin—can successfully disarm one of its cousins, Machupo, for which there’s currently no vaccine.
The experiments were conducted in vitro using antibodies obtained from a vaccine recipient.
The new study, however, provides the first molecular proof of what thus far have been merely anecdotal observations.
It also identifies a common, conserved site on both viruses that renders them defenseless to the same antibodies.
“Our findings raise the tantalizing possibility of designing universal therapies using antibodies made to one virus for which there is a vaccine as a way to prevent or treat other viruses for which there are none,” said study senior author Jonathan Abraham, assistant professor of microbiology and immunobiology at Harvard Medical School and an infectious disease specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
“We believe our results are a step in that direction.” High stakes The need to develop such therapies, the team said, is even more acute in an era when viruses previously limited to one region are appearing in new geographic areas, greatly fueling the risk for outbreaks in new settings.As a virus’ natural host, or target, evolves over time, so do the footprints, or the configuration, of the its molecular key—the RBS.The change ensures the virus’ compatibility with the host and, in the end, the virus’ survival.They focused on a subset of immune cells known as memory B cells.As the long-term keepers of memories from viral encounters past, these cells store the ingredients and the recipes for making protective antibodies against these remembered viruses.By comparison, outbreaks caused by Machupo have been relatively small and contained—fewer than 100 people sick at a time.Then again, Abraham points out, up until the 2014-2016 outbreaks in West Africa, Ebola too had caused sporadic, smaller outbreaks affecting dozens to hundreds of people.Even though viruses from other viral families can at times cause hemorrhagic fevers, members of the arenavirus family are considered true hemorrhagic fever viruses.The infections they cause are marked by blood vessel damage and severe bleeding in multiple organs.Between 15 and 30 percent of people infected with one these viruses develop severe symptoms and die.Prior to the development of the Junin vaccine in the 1980s, the virus had caused about 30,000 symptomatic infections in Argentina.