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Novel Approach Suggested to Fight the Avian Flu Pandemic

A Swedish researcher has an unconventional idea for curbing the worldwide spread of the deadly avian flu virus for which no human vaccine currently exists.

Jan-Inge Henter of Stockholm's Karolinska Hospital theorizes that the chemotherapy treatment used to target a rare viral immune disorder called HLH could prove effective against the pathogenic H5N1 strain.

Writing in the journal Lancet, Henter and colleagues in Hong Kong report that HLH and H5N1 share similar clinical symptoms and post-mortem features. Patients with HLH produce too many infection fighting white blood cells, which accumulate in healthy tissue and damage various organs.

The same is true in H5N1 patients. Chemotherapy kills those excess cells and reduces deaths in HLH patients. Henter says the hypothesis is worthy of further investigation. But he says before drawing too many conclusions "one would first want to investigate some more patients with the avian flu to see and to make sure that the HLH picture is consistent [with H5N1] and that it is not only in a few patients."

Henter welcomes more global collaboration to help researchers stay a step ahead of an avian flu pandemic. "Colleagues that will then meet these patients will be aware of this idea and take those blood tests that will tell us whether it [H5N1] is similar in more aspects," he says. "Now that this has been made public we hope that we will learn faster about the similarities and then it will be much easier if there are these similarities to take the next step, that is to treat the patients."

Henter hopes to progress toward clinical trials based on a modified HLH therapy.