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      Indian-American creates molecule that stops SARS virus


      Washington (IANS): A molecular compound created by an Indian-American researcher prevents replication of the SARS virus that could open the way for its treatment.

      "The outbreak of SARS in 2003 led to hundreds of deaths and thousands of illnesses, and there is currently no treatment," said Arun Ghosh, professor at Purdue University who led the molecular design team.

      "Although it is not currently a threat, there is the concern that SARS could return or be used as a biological weapon. It is important to develop a treatment as a safeguard," he added.

      SARS or severe acute respiratory syndrome, spread through two dozen countries over a few months before it was contained, infecting 8,098 people worldwide and claiming 774 lives.

      Ghosh, who invented the HIV drug Darunavir, marketed in 2007 and approved by the FDA, specialises in improving the treatment properties of molecular inhibitors through structure-based design.

      According to Centres for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention, the virus can be transmitted through coughing or sneezing and can quickly spread from person to person.

      Besides blocking SARS virus, the molecular compound that inhibits the virus provides new insights into a group of proteins found in a range of diseases including childhood croup, herpes and cancer, Ghosh said.

      "The molecular inhibitor we developed is very potent against the SARS virus by binding to and blocking the use of a specific protein, called papain-like protease, or PLpro, involved in viral replication and evasion of the immune system," said Ghosh.

      "This is the first design and discovery of an inhibitor for this class of proteins. We are hopeful that this will open the door to new treatments for other diseases as well," said Ghosh.

      Ghosh's group teamed with a research group led by Andrew Mesecar at the University of Illinois, Chicago.

      Mesecar's team screened more than 50,000 chemical compounds for the necessary properties to both block the virus and have the potential to become viable drug treatments, said a Purdue release.

      "Only two of the compounds we tested were identified as having the properties researchers believed could become drugs," said Mesecar, a professor of medicinal chemistry and pharmacognosy.

      "Using those two compounds, Arun Ghosh and his team increased the potency by almost two orders of magnitude," he said.

      Ghosh's research group is involved in multidisciplinary research projects in the areas of synthetic organic, bioorganic and medicinal chemistry.

      His group is currently investigating the chemistry and biology of anticancer agents. Another important research area is the design and synthesis of molecular probes.

      Ghosh has also been selected as the recipient of the 2008 Robert M. Scarborough Memorial Award. This award, conferred by American Chemical Society recognises scientists under the age of 50 at the time of nomination.

      November 14, 2008


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