Scottish scientists believe they are a step closer to wiping out one of the world's most distressing childhood conditions, after winning a grant from an American drugs company to develop new drugs for croup.
Garry Taylor of St Andrews University's centre for biomolecular sciences has been awarded $400,000 by Alabama-based Bio-
cryst Pharmaceuticals to design new treatments for the condition.
With croup, infection of the larynx and windpipe leads to a distinctive cough, often compared to a seal's bark. It is caused by a parainfluenza virus, and infection generally occurs very early in life, with at least 60 per cent of children affected by age two, and 80 per cent by age four.
The virus can also affect adults, and because it alters its appearance to evade the immune system, there can also be reinfection in later life.
Professor Taylor's team is to examine a viral protein, hemagglutinin-neuraminidase (HN), which is the key protein in infection. It is involved in attaching the virus to cells and triggering the fusion process that leads to the viral genes being placed into the infected cell, where multiple new copies of the virus are then made. The researchers believe that the protein's key role makes it a good target for therapeutic intervention.
Professor Taylor said: "The project will lead to the design of new drugs that will hinder the normal role of HN and, in turn, alleviate the suffering of thousands of children. There are no effective vaccines available as yet, so the route we are taking is to block the infection and spread of the virus by inhibiting the virus's Achilles' heel."
The St Andrews team will collaborate with synthetic chemists, molecular modellers, structural biologists and biochemists and with the university's long-time collaborators in Memphis carrying out biological testing of the compounds made by
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