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A scrap from a childhood virus may save soldiers' lives

A harmless shard from the shell of a common childhood virus may halt a biological process that kills a significant percentage of battlefield casualties, heart attack victims and oxygen-deprived newborns, according to research presented Sunday, September 6, 2009, at the 12th European meeting on complement in human disease in Budapest, Hungary.

Introducing the virus's shell in vitro shuts down what's known as the complement response, a primordial part of the immune system that attacks and destroys the organs and vascular lining of people who have been deprived of oxygen for prolonged periods, according to researchers at Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters (CHKD) and Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS), in Norfolk, Va.

The complement response kicks in after the victim has been revived, in what is known as a reperfusion injury. It does its work slowly but unrelentingly, killing soldiers, infants or heart attack victims over the course of days.

"To find a way to manipulate the complement system pharmacologically has been like a search for the Holy Grail," said one of the lead researchers, Dr. Kenji Cunnion, an infectious disease physician at CHKD and an associate professor of pediatrics at EVMS.

While Cunnion and Neel Krishna, Ph.D., a pediatric virologist at CHKD and assistant professor of microbiology at EVMS, focus on pediatric research, they see clear military applications.

"The complement reaction is one of the major causes of death of the battlefield," said Krishna. "By the time you get a victim to the hospital, it may be too late."

- Via EurekAlert
 
 

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