An everyday food additive appears to block a deadly new strain of avian influenza virus from infecting healthy cells, according to a new research study.
The compound is an FDA-approved food additive tert-butyl hydroquinone. The compound is an aromatic organic compound which is a type of phenol. It is used as a preservative for unsaturated vegetable oils and many edible animal fats.
The reason for the scientific interest is because the compound, in wide use as a preservative, binds to a part of the flu virus that has never been targeted by any existing antiviral drug. Flu viruses enter host cells using a special protein called hemagglutinin, which acts as a "key" that opens receptors on the cell surface. If hemagglutinin is disabled, the virus is locked out and cannot infect cells. The researchers found that tert-butyl hydroquinone sticks to a specific region on the hemagglutinin molecule and blocks the viruses from infecting cells.
To test out the compound, the researchers undertook trials on human lung cells in a laboratory and found that they could block the virus from entering the cells.
The research was undertaken by scientists at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine and it has been reported in the online journal, PLOS ONE. The paper is titled “Inhibition of Influenza H7 Hemagglutinin-Mediated Entry.”