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Winter 1999 Vol.23 No.1
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Method may be key in combating
diarrhea in animals and children

By Jim Barlow

Dr. Mark Kuhlenschmidt (right) discusses findings with colleagues (from left) Drs. Bill Hanafin, Theresa Kuhlenschmidt, and Howard Gelberg (standing).

College researchers studying rotaviral strains that cause severe diarrhea in young children and neonatal pigs have for the first time isolated the virus’s receptors–where it binds–on gastrointestinal cells. The researchers are beginning to test a synthetic mimic that may block the virus.

"If we can isolate and purify the receptor, which we have done, then we can give it orally, in large amounts, in the form of a natural product that is soluble," said Dr. Mark Kuhlenschmidt, veterinary pathobi-ology. "The virus would bind to this soluble receptor and pass right on through the intestinal tract and not bind to the host cell. We think this could be a viable alternative–or an effective addition–to a vaccine that targets the virus."

Rotavirus diarrhea accounts for an estimated 870,000 deaths a year, according to the World Health Organization. In animals, rotavirus-induced diarrhea kills an estimated 60 percent of its victims.

Dr. Kuhlenschmidt and his departmental colleagues Drs. Theresa B. Kuhlenschmidt, Howard B. Gelberg, and doctoral student Mark D. Rolsma reported some of their findings in the November issue of the Journal of Virology.

Cheaply produced synthetic receptors, he said, probably can be mixed into animal feed and infant formula. "Providing an oral therapy that could compete for the virus should be enough to protect from disease, but not necessarily infection," he said. "In this way, the immune system would benefit from a little bit of infection."

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