The National Institutes of Health (NIH), an agency of the US Department of Health and Human Services, has awarded a $1m grant to The Scripps Research Institute for a three-year study intended to develop new screening tests against the hepatitis C virus (HCV).
Under the three-year study, researchers will develop new high-throughput tools to identify compounds which disable a protein essential for the replication of HCV. Timothy Tellinghuisen, principal investigator for the study and Scripps Florida associate professor, said the new research is focused on a potent enzyme, NS2 protease, which is necessary for productive infections that produce new viruses and spread the infection among cells.
"The new grant will help us develop potential chemical tools to look at the role of NS2 in HCV biology because we really don't know how the protein works. Our overall goal is to turn our small-scale NS2 assay into an assay appropriate for high-throughput small-molecule screening," Tellinghuisen added.
According to recent studies, NS2 protease may be involved in altering gene expression in the host cell and helping the virus defend against apoptosis or programmed cell death, in addition to the direct roles for the protein in viral replication and particle assembly.
Tellinghuisen and his colleagues have already developed a small-scale screen to identify compounds which disrupt viral replication through NS2 protease activity.
The Scripps Research Institute is an independent, non-profit biomedical research organisation, recognised for its discoveries in immunology, molecular and cellular biology, chemistry, neuroscience and vaccine development, as well as autoimmune, cardiovascular and infectious disease.
Image: The Scripps Research Institute's Center for Chemical Sciences. Photo: Takometer.