Australian researchers try to stop Hendra virus

Researchers at Australia's Griffith University School of Medical Science are close to finding a successful human treatment for the Hendra virus, a possible bioterrorism agent, and the Nipah virus, a close relative.

Nigel McMillan, an associate professor at the school, received funding from the Australian federal government to further study a human cure for the Hendra virus. Since an outbreak in 1994, seven confirmed human cases have occurred in Australia, leading to four deaths. No effective and safe treatments exist for the virus. The Nipah virus has killed 248 people in Southeast Asia.

"We have already been able to reduce Hendra virus in cells by 99.99 percent within a laboratory, and we have found the treatment is highly effective in very low doses," McMillan said. "We have also developed a novel way of delivering the therapy through what we call 'stealth liposomes,' which will safely take the treatment to where it needs to go in the body."

The therapy, developed in collaboration with CSIRO, attacks the virus by turning off an important gene. The only existing therapy for people exposed to the Hendra virus is an antibody therapy that is highly experimental with potential serious side effects. The researchers think that they are on the brink of a new and much safer treatment.

"If someone comes in who has been infected we will be able to give them a therapy which will turn off the virus and the patient will recover naturally because virus won't have the opportunity to spread," McMillan said. "Furthermore, the patient will then develop a lifelong immunity to Hendra virus."