£790K Scottish Enterprise Proof of Concept grant awarded to Edinburgh Infectious Diseases members for antiviral therapy

Edinburgh Infectious Diseases members Amy Buck (Institute of Immunology and Infection Research), Bernadette Dutia, Gerry McLachlan (Roslin Institute) and Jürgen Schwarze (Centre for Inflammation Research) have been awarded a £790K Proof of Concept grant from Scottish Enterprise to study host-targeted microRNA manipulation as an antiviral therapy.

MicroRNAs are ubiquitous small non-coding RNA molecules found in plants and animals, which function in transcriptional and post-transcriptional regulation of gene expression. These cytoplasmic microRNAs base-pair with complementary sequences within protein coding mRNA molecules, usually resulting in gene silencing via translational repression or target degradation.  The human genome may encode over 1000 microRNAs, which regulate the majority of protein coding genes in a cell, including the signaling pathways that are activated during viral infection.

Crucially, work by Buck et al, as well as others, has shown that some cellular microRNAs possess broad spectrum antiviral activity.  Ongoing work is being carried out to elucidate the mechanism of specific antiviral microRNAs, but this seems to involve the regulation of key cellular pathways that are essential for different viruses during their lifecycles.

Recpients of the new grant L - R:  Amy Buck, Bernadette Dutia, Gerry McLachlan and Jürgen Schwarze

In the northern hemisphere, respiratory diseases caused by viruses are amongst the most common causes of serious illness.  Infections caused by influenza virus result in approximately 25 million people seeking support from healthcare providers annually. Furthermore, between 40,000 to 60,000 people die each year as a result of related complications.  Despite the significant healthcare burden, there are a limited number of treatment options available.

Studies funded by this new Proof of Concept grant will test the antiviral properties of microRNAs against influenza virus and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).  The main aim is to develop a robust method of microRNA delivery to the lung with a view to getting a possible treatment into pre-clinical trials.  Edinburgh BioQuarter is leading the commercialisation and it is also hoped that a high growth spin-out company will be formed that has the potential to make a significant contribution to improving human health and the Scottish economy.

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