Australian research offers hope to chikungunya patients

May 6th, 2008 - 11:04 am ICT by admin  

By Neena Bhandari
Sydney, May 6 (IANS) Researchers from the University of Canberra have identified the cell and proteins behind the arthritic inflammation caused by mosquito-borne viral diseases like Ross river virus, endemic to Australia, and chikungunya, which India is grappling with on a large scale. “The recent (2005-2007) outbreaks of chikungunya virus, which cause severe debilitating musculoskeletal disease, underscores the significance of the findings described in our research paper,” says virologist Suresh Mahalingam.

“The good news is that we have been able to determine through research that there is a drug, Sulfasalazine, which is currently available commercially that can be used to combat the severity of the disease,” Mahalingam told IANS.

He is the dean of research and director, Centre for Biomolecular and Chemical Sciences, University of Canberra.

In recent years, chikungunya has infected six million people in India and recently 200 people in Italy.

“In our mouse model of viral-induced rheumatic disease we are able to show that Sulfasalazine ameliorates joint and muscle inflammation and tissue damage,” Mahalingam says.

Sulfasalazine is commonly used for the treatment of other inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease.

“We have unravelled the mechanisms of how these viruses trigger musculoskeletal disease. We now will be able to identify precisely the proteins produced by the cells that are responsible for severe disease. However, we need to extend this work to humans,” says Mahalingam, who migrated from Malaysia in 1994 to do his PhD at the Australian National University.

He believes this research has worldwide implications.

“Infections with a number of different viruses, from a range of different virus families, are able to induce arthritis (joint inflammation) and/or arthralgia (joint pain). Examples include HIV, influenza, rubella, hepatitis, mumps, herpes and dengue virus.”

Mahalingam, who has been researching the virus for four years, says: “My research in this area aims to discover new treatments and a clearer understanding of this disease.”

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