A researcher at Washington University in St. Louis will take part in a study to look for similarities in how humans respond to three potentially lethal viruses.

Washington University Professor of Medicine Michael Diamond, MD, PhD

Washington University Professor of Medicine Michael Diamond, MD, PhD

Washington University Professor of Medicine Michael Diamond is an expert on West Nile virus. He will work with researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratories who will also study Ebola and influenza.

Diamond says those three ailments were chosen for their differences.

“They cause three different types of very severe disease, so we figured that would give us some insight into some of the pathways which were different. Yet we felt that because they’re all viruses, they replicate in a certain place in the cell, there would be some very conserved pathways which would be trying to restrict them, so there would be elements that would be similar and different.”

Diamond explains that finding similarities between the three could lead to new, more effective treatments useful against all three.

“For example, if you found certain pathways that were commonly activated and trying to restrict these very, very disparate viral infections, then that might be targets for new avenues for new, broad-spectrum antivirals.”

Developing such drugs has been difficult using more conventional methods. Diamond says this will use a “systems biology approach.”

“We look at it from a much higher point of view … we look at how the cells are changed in all of these different ways and then we would identify things that might be in common which could then be targeted.”

Diamond says he will meet his colleagues next month to begin laying out the roadmap for their work over the next five years.

“In the first couple of years we gather an enormous amount of information. We have a computational center that’s going to process this. We generate hypotheses about which of the genes may be important for controlling all three viruses together and which ones may be working specifically, and then the last three years of the grant we begin to test out and confirm and corroborate our hypotheses.”

The study is backed by an $18.3 million dollar grant from the National Institutes of Health.