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Anti-viral treatment has potential to protect lung disease patients

Southampton researchers have found boosting a key part of the body’s immune system has the potential to prevent viral infections in patients with lung diseases.

Researchers from University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Southampton, in collaboration with the biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, have shown that interferon beta (IFN-β) could help protect lung disease patients against viral infections.

Promising results

IFN-β is a key part of the body’s natural immune defence against viruses, and is already used to treat patients with the relapsing-remitting form of multiple sclerosis.

The results from this study – carried out in a laboratory and published in the American Journal for Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine – showed that IFN-β protected cells taken from patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) protect against a flu virus.

However, applying IFN-β to the cells after they had been infected did not help, so any treatments using IFN-β would need to be preventative.

While this research is still in the early stages and more in-depth investigations are needed, this initial study suggests that IFN-β has the potential to prevent viral infections in lung disease patients.

Immune boost

Lung infections can cause worsening of symptoms, known as exacerbations or flare-ups, for patients with asthma and COPD. This research suggests that giving IFN-β to COPD patients could prevent flare-ups caused by viral infections, by boosting their body’s natural immune defences.

Professor Tom Wilkinson, consultant in respiratory medicine in Southampton and study lead, said: "Respiratory infections lead to around four million deaths per year and have an enormous impact on global health.

“Viral infections in patients with asthma and COPD can lead to worsening of symptoms and disease progression through exacerbations.

“These latest results provide important insights to aid the optimal design of future clinical trials of IFN-β and related therapies in both asthma and COPD.”


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