Scientists at NUI Maynooth have pinpointed how control and regulation of a specific gene could combat debilitating diseases such as multiple sclerosis.
After three years of research the team is in the early stages of trying to uncover how to manipulate the Pellino3 gene to tackle serious illnesses.
Research published in the US journal Nature Immunology showed the gene's critical function is to regulate the amount of protective proteins released by our immune systems to fight a virus.
Professor Paul Moynagh said it was a significant breakthrough in viral immunology.
"The research has much potential for the treatment of major auto-immune diseases and the next step is to determine how the exploitation of Pellino3 can physiologically impact on specific conditions," he said.
NUI Maynooth discovered that Pellino3 acts like a brake to stop overproduction of interferons, the protective proteins. If the gene is not working as designed, overproduction of interferons can lead to debilitating inflammatory diseases such as lupus while those of us who do not produce enough are more at risk of MS and hepatitis.
The research paper says controlling production linked to Pellino3 is critical in the treatment of viral disease.
Prof Moynagh expects to carry out another two years of experimental research before the team can think about the long road to licensing a drug.
The 10-strong research team at NUI Maynooth has produced an early stage molecular drug that can target Pellino3. They are performing early stage studies in disease models asking if it can alleviate symptoms.
Prof Moynagh: "The ultimate objective of our project is the development, production and commercialisation of pharmaceuticals which can help to combat immune-mediated diseases such as MS. Our results demonstrate the importance of continued investment in basic research, which feeds the pipeline through which pharmaceutical development and disease treatment can occur."