Our ground-breaking work on Hendra virus led to the discovery of a potential genetic "off switch" for influenza, cancer, arthritis, and autoimmune disorders.

The challenge

Controlling cytokines

The human body contains proteins called cytokines that strengthen the immune system and prevent viruses and other pathogens from replicating and causing disease.

The ILRUN gene under a microscope

However if left unchecked they can spiral out of control and can become a health issue themselves. Cytokines have been implicated in infectious diseases, cancer, diabetes and inflammatory disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis.

New therapies that target and control cytokines are required.

Our response

Finding the “off switch”

Our Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) screened all 20,000 proteins in the human genome to identify the host molecules Hendra virus exploits to spread infection.

It was the first screen of its kind for a biosafety level 4 pathogen (requiring the highest level of biocontainment), and the first screen performed for a paramyxovirus. As well as Hendra, these include measles, mumps, respiratory syncytial virus and human parainfluenza viruses, which collectively infect hundreds of thousands of people each year.

The survey identified a gene that plays a critical role in controlling cytokines, and can help regulate the body's immune response to infection and disease.

ILRUN acts as an "off switch" for the production of cytokines.

The results

Potential new treatments

Our research improves understanding of the immune system and could aid development of new, more targeted therapies. It could also lead to new treatments for influenza, cancer, arthritis, and autoimmune disorders.

ILRUN has existed for half a billion years, preserved and passed down from simple organisms all the way to humans. It's only now though that we're in the early stages of understanding its role and potential medical applications.

Dr Cameron Stewart and his team discovered the C6 gene’s function

The first steps towards this were published by CSIRO researchers in the Journal of Biological Chemistry in July 2018.

The gene was originally known as "C6orf106", but was granted the name ILRUN by the Human Genome Nomenclature Committee (HGNC).

The acronym stands for "Inflammation and lipid regulator with UBA-like and NBR1-like domains".

Scientists from CSIRO's Health and Biosecurity business unit decided on the name in consultation with researchers from the University of Pennsylvania.

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