Getting a shot in the arm

Flu season is right around the corner, silently plotting to ruin plans. Meanwhile, rising rates of drug-resistant flu strains have raised concerns that current antiviral drugs may soon become completely ineffective.

Hai Lin, professor of chemistry
Professor of Chemistry Hai Lin, PhD, hopes to combat future flu epidemics with the help of protons.

Professor of Chemistry Hai Lin, PhD, hopes to combat future flu epidemics with the help of protons.

Lin received the Cottrell Plus SEED (Singular Exceptional Endeavors of Discovery) award, which will fund his research on understanding the drug resistance and assisting development of new antivirals. Given by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, the grant is to support “the very first instances of exceptionally creative new research.”

“I’m especially honored to receive this award, because it highlights out-of-the-box research,” Lin said. “The outcomes from this SEED project could really help us better comprehend drug resistance to flu treatments.”

Computerized proton mapping to understand drug resistance

To combat the flu when not warded off by a vaccine, many doctors prescribe anti-viral treatments. These drugs work by inhibiting the transport of protons into the flu virus through a channel protein called M2. However, genetic mutations have caused the influenza virus to become resistant to this technique.

With the $50,000 Lin received through the SEED award, his group intends to study proton transfers by computer modeling and simulations – which could help in the search for new treatment techniques. Mapping the transfer of protons has been notoriously difficult due to their minuscule size and unusually high transfer rate.

“Proton channels and transporter proteins are vital to all life,” said Lin. “It is really difficult to describe their operations with lab experiments alone. With our computer modeling, we can get a fresh view of how protons move into the virus at the very fundamental atomic level.”

Prestigious funding award helps development of groundbreaking therapeutics

Lin received a Cottrell College Science Award (CCSA) in 2006 for his research on cytochrome P450, which metabolizes drugs in the liver. The CCSA consolidated with the Cottrell Scholars Award in 2015, and only the top 5 percent of CCSA awardees received the designation as Cottrell Scholar – Lin was among that prestigious group.

“I was very excited that my group now has the opportunity to try new, risky ideas,” he said. “We hope to see our computer modeling contribute to the development of new, groundbreaking therapeutics in the future, and we believe we have the chance to really impact the field.”

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