San Diego State's men's basketball team falls to No. 13 in new AP poll, released Feb. 24, 2014.

Researchers at San Diego State University reported Thursday that they have developed a way to monitor molecular activity within viruses, which could make it easier to screen drug candidates to fight deadly diseases.

Scientists led by SDSU biologist Roland Wolkowicz have been working for the past few years to develop cell-based platforms that can be used to monitor the biomolecular activity of viruses inside their host cells.

They made one for the dengue virus, but it could be adapted for HIV, West Nile and other viral diseases, according to their study results, which were published recently in the Journal of Biomolecular Screening and the Journal of Visualized Experiments.

The platform screens host cells to detect whether or not a protein function of dengue, known as pre-membrane protein cleavage, has occurred, according to the scientists.

The cleavage process is important for new viral particles to be able to infect a host cell. The researchers said preventing the cleavage from happening could effectively stop the virus in its tracks.

“Cleavage is absolutely critical to the virus’ life cycle,” Wolkowicz said. “While the role of prM cleavage is not completely understood, new particles won’t mature without it. By blocking prM cleavage, you clearly diminish the virus’ ability to infect other cells.”

Fluorescent tags allow scientists to see whether the cleavage process has taken place.

Using the platform, Cameron Smurthwaite SDSU and Zach Stolp, formerly an SDSU student and currently a doctoral candidate at Johns Hopkins University, tested 1,280 drug compounds to see whether any of them could block the cleavage process in a dengue cell.

One, Thiostrepton, worked. The SDSU researchers cautioned that the drug will need far more testing before it’s proven to be effective against the dengue virus, which kills some 22,000 people annually around the world.

“If the platform is robust, and ours is, you can imagine using it to screen thousands and thousands of compounds against different viruses for the discovery of new antivirals,” Wolkowicz said. “And it could be important for finding factors critical to the life cycle of viruses.”

—City News Service

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