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Who is more likely to succumb to the new H7N9 strain of flu currently in China?

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Researchers at the University of Melbourne have discovered a genetic marker that can accurately predict which patients will experience more severe disease in a new strain of influenza (H7N9) currently found in China, according to a December 23, 2013 news release, "Genetic clue to fighting new strains of flu." Published in the Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, senior author, Associate Professor Katherine Kedzierska from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology said that being able to predict which patients will be more susceptible to the emerging influenza strain, will allow clinicians to better manage an early intervention strategy. You also may wish to watch a YouTube video on the subject, "Genetic clue to fighting new strains of flu."

“By using genetic markers to blood and lung samples, we have discovered that there are certain indicators that signal increased susceptibility to this influenza. Higher than normal levels of cytokines, driven by a genetic variant of a protein called IFITM3, tells us that the severe disease is likely,” she said, according to the news release. "We call this a Cytokine Storm and people with the defective genetic variant of the protein IFITM3 are more likely to succumb to severe influenza infection."

Professor Peter Doherty, AC, Laureate Professor and a lead author of the study from the University of Melbourne said predicting how influenza works in individuals has implications for the management of disease and the resources on our health system, according to the news release. “We are exploring how genetic sequencing and early identification can allow us to intervene in treating patients before they become too unwell. As new cases of influenza emerge in the Northern Hemisphere, we try to keep a season ahead and prepare to protect the most vulnerable in our community,” he said in the news release.

Though the H7N9 strain has not been found in Australia, researchers from the University of Melbourne are collaborating closely with Prof Jianqing Xu and his group from the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center in China. In addition to this, Dr Zhongfang Wang, an NHMRC Australian-China Exchange Fellow is also working closely with Melbourne experts. For more information check out the site, "Genetic clue to fighting new strains of flu | Research Receptor." Also you may wish to see the abstract of another study, "Systems analysis of sex differences reveals an immunosuppressive role for testosterone in the response to influenza vaccination."

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