Sydney: The discovery of a unique ability in bats that allows them to carry but remain unaffected by some deadly diseases, including Ebola and Hendra virus, could lead to new treatments against viral infections, suggests new research.
The research showed that bats — a natural host for more than 100 viruses — keep their immune systems permanently switched on, acting as a frontline defence against diseases.
“If we can redirect other species’ immune responses to behave in a similar manner to that of bats, then the high death rate associated with diseases such as Ebola, could be a thing of the past,” said Michelle Baker, bat immunologist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia.
The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), examined the genes and immune system of the Australian black flying fox — the largest species of flying fox in Australia.
“We focused on the innate immunity of bats, in particular the role of interferons — which are integral for innate immune responses in mammals — to understand what’s special about how bats respond to invading viruses, Baker noted.
Interestingly, bats only have three interferons, which is only a fraction – about a quarter – of the number of interferons we find in humans, the researchers noted.
However, in other mammalian species having the immune response constantly switched on is dangerous — for example it’s toxic to tissue and cells — whereas the bat immune system operates in harmony, the study said.