Sci & Tech online editor Ellen Heimpel reports on the discovery that Hira proteins found in our cells can be used to combat viruses, and the potential uses of this in future medicine.
There are millions of viruses out there whose purpose it is to get inside our cells and use them to replicate, often causing disease in the process. There are over 200 viruses alone that cause different strains of the common cold, for example.
Now wouldn’t it be great if we could find a way of stopping these viruses from developing in our cells? Well, Dr Rai and his colleagues at the University of the West of Scotland have discovered a protein that can stop the growth and development of viruses.
This protein is called the Hira protein and it is a histone chaperone complex. It has already been identified as a protein that can suppress cancer. Three years ago, Dr Taranjit and her colleagues at Beaston cancer institute and Glasgow university discovered that the Hira protein could suppress the uncontrolled division of cells that cause cancer.
Whilst conducting this research, Dr Taranjit discovered something exciting. In order to study cancer, she had to use viruses to introduce the mutation into cells. Every time she did this however, the Hira protein moved to a different place. This made her think that the protein must have something to do with viruses. However, as her main priority was cancer, she did not focus on this discovery.
This research was however picked up by Dr Rai at the University of the West of Scotland who recently discovered that this same Hira protein can also be used to combat viruses by slowing down and stopping their development.
He tested this using a special breed of mice in which it is possible to ‘knock out’ the Hira protein. His team knocked out the protein in some of the mice and compared their response to the herpes virus with that of normal mice. The mice without the Hira protein were much more vulnerable to the herpes virus.
Sounds great, right? Where can I get some to get rid of this permanent cold? The good news is that we already have them. Hira is present in variable amounts in every cell in our body. This provides the potential for new treatments for viral infections. Research is still very much in the laboratory stage but there are implications that we might be able to tackle viruses in the future by increasing the level of Hira proteins in our cells. The problem is that because Hira is a histone chaperone complex it is very tightly bound to our DNA. Therefore, it is difficult to access and use it. Scientists are currently researching ways around this.
Another interesting thing about the Hira protein is that the older we get, the more Hira builds up in our cells, suggesting it may have something to do with how we age and die. Further research is needed to make these connections.