UC research seeking to beat drug-resistance in war on flu
August 27, 2012
A University of Canterbury (UC) research project is looking to beat drug-resistance in the war on flu.
UC researchers Balaji Somasundaram and Professor Conan Fee have been working at the UC’s Bimolecular Interaction Centre
(BIC) for the past two years to find a breakthrough in the flu war by fighting drug resistance.
The spread of influenza virus as a pandemic results in the deaths of millions of people annually. In the early 20th
century new strains of the influenza virus emerged, killing up to ten million people.
New strains occur when an existing flu virus spreads to people from animals. In April 2009, a new flu strain called the
swine flu emerged that combined genes from human, pig and bird flu.
On June 11, 2009, the World Health Organisation declared the outbreak of swine flu to be a pandemic. Among the current
antiviral drugs tamiflu is used extensively to treat swine flu.
``This drug could be rendered ineffective by changing a single amino acid in the target protein. This occurs naturally
in the virus and in biology this process is called mutation. The ability of the virus to cause drug resistance varies
with the type of mutation it can carry,’’ Somasundaram said today.
``Our testing can also be extended to future anti-viral drugs. This in turn, will make us better prepared for an
influenza pandemic by enabling rapid identification of the most effective drugs for treating a particular influenza
``The first step in this direction will be to measure the degree of resistance by different mutations. We are looking to
develop a quick test to carry out this measurement. Hopefully by the end of the project they should have developed a way
to determine the efficiency of anti-viral drugs.’’
PhD student Somasundaram was third in the UC’s recent annual thesis-in-three minutes competition.
They operate out of UC’s BIC which a premier research institute is set up by the university three years ago, as a
multi-disciplinary unit between chemical engineering, biological sciences and chemistry. It now has members from seven
universities including Oxford University in the UK and 30 principal researchers from more than 20 departments and up to
50 research students.