Annual Report FY 2004 - Research at Cornell

29. On The Trail of Influenza

Gary R. Whittaker, Virology, and graduate student Victor C. Chu discovered a critical step in flu virus infection. The flu virus uses the newly discovered pathway to enter and infect a cell. After the virus attaches to a cell, there is a second step in which an unknown co-receptor allows the virus to enter a cell. Scientists have known for 50 years how the influenza virus attaches to cells before it infects them. The Cornell researchers showed that the influenza virus requires a protein to enter cells. With the discovery of this second stage in influenza infection, the researchers can now trace the receptor. Once identified, new antiviral medications and vaccines could be developed to target all influenza viruses, not just individual strains. New strains of flu continue to emerge for which there is no vaccine. Influenza kills about 20,000 people every year in the United States and about a half million people worldwide.

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