Thu, Aug 02, 2007 - Page 4 News List

Scientists discover cause of SARS' high morbidity

STAFF WRITER , WITH CNA

Virologists at National Yang-Ming University (NYMU) in Taipei have discovered the cause for the high morbidity rate of SARS, indicating that mutations in a specific protein in the SARS virus can greatly accelerate the viral replication process, university sources reported yesterday.

The proteins are susceptible to mutations once the SARS coronavirus gets inside humans, explained NYMU professor Chen Yi-ming (陳宜民), adding that human-type SARS viruses can therefore replicate 60 to 100 times faster than pre-mutation ones, resulting in high morbidity rates.

Chen said that if a targeted drug aimed at reducing or even inhibiting the relevant protein and related mechanisms can be created, humans might eventually have an effective SARS prevention method.

The understanding of the protein might also facilitate the study of cancer metastasis, he added.

The results have been published by the US-based Journal of Infectious Diseases, first in its online version July 19 and then in print in its Aug. 1 issue.

Scientists have found that the aggressiveness of SARS viruses are very different in cases of civets and as opposed to humans in previous studies.

Based on those findings, Chen Chia-yen (陳嘉燕) -- a member of Chen Yi-ming's team and the lead author of the research paper -- conducted a series of genetic comparisons between the SARS coronaviruses in civets and those in humans, leading to the discovery of the protein mutations.

Chen Chia-yen found that the variations not only induce apoptosis phenomena in viruses but also greatly accelerate the replication process.

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