The battle against ticks
[2012-07-18] 2011 was a record year. In 2011 there were 284 people in Sweden who contracted tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) – a virus that can cause meningitis and inflict permanent injury.
“There are several reasons for the high incidence of the virus. A reduction in the number of deer, a major peak in the rodent population and a mild climate had many infected ticks out looking for blood most of the year. And the fact that it was a good year for mushrooms meant that people were out in the woods more,” says Anna Överby, Research Leader at the Laboratory of Molecular Infection Medicine Sweden (MIMS) at Umeå University.
Anna Överby is doing research on the struggle between human immune defense and the TBE virus. When the virus is transmitted to human beings it quickly multiplies in our cells. The virus rearranges things looking for a way to hide its propagation mechanisms, which confuses the virus detectors in our cells so that they can't detect the virus, and so it can move on to the next cell, and then the next...
“The cells start up a defense programme to brake the infection, but it takes too long and by the time the cells react the virus has already spread.”
The defense programme begins with the production of interferon, signal molecules that move on to other cells, warn them and tell them to start producing defense proteins. Anna Överby is studying one of these proteins, called viperin, a persistent combatant of TBE. Anna Överby thinks they fight hard against the tick-borne virus.
“While there is a vaccine against the TBE virus, there is no cure for one who is already infected. But when we know how viperin works to attack viruses we will be able to develop a drug that triggers its production or does what it does.”
Thanks to new research funding, there is a lot going on in Anna Överby's lab. Her research keeps doctoral students, two post doctoral researchers and two project students busy. It is their dream to find a way of treating people who have been infected by TBE.
Text: Sofia Eriksson
Photo: Mattias Pettersson
Facts about Anna Överby
Anna Överby took a mster of science in biotechnology engineering at Umeå University, did her doctorate at karolinska institutet 2007 and continued on as a postdoc at the University of Freiburg. she is originally from Älvsbyn, and is on the swedish underwater rugby team (silver medal in the World Championship in 2011). When the swedish Foundation for strategic research, ssF, awarded a research grant of 2.95 million sek to each one of 14 innovative researchers who were returning home to sweden, Anna Överby was one of them.
Editor: Karin Wikman
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