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Worldwide, seasonal influenza epidemics cause more than 300,000 deaths each year (and pandemics like the Spanish Flu of 1918 killed tens of millions). Dr. Ian Davis, assistant professor in the Department of Veterinary Biosciences, has been awarded a new National Institutes of Health grant to study influenza virus, which causes a type of pneumonia.
Typically, lung damage caused by this pneumonia claims the majority of the victims in an epidemic. Current antiviral drugs are available but work only at the beginning of the infection; vaccines must be re-formulated each year based on predictions about the coming flu season and may not be protective in the face of a pandemic. Dr. Davis’ research team has been examining how influenza stimulates nucleotide metabolism in infected lung cells, resulting in increased release and breakdown of adenosine triphosphate into adenosine, which induces lung inflammation in severe influenza. The results of this important work have revealed that using drug therapy to target this pathway may be a novel approach for preventing lung injury from influenza.