Dr. Barbara Porto

Targeting gasdermin D-mediated cell death as a potential therapeutic approach against RSV infection

Last winter, Manitoba experienced a bad season of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), with many cases in children. RSV is a major cause of respiratory illness in young children. The virus usually causes a common cold, but children under a year old are most at risk of developing a serious and even life-threatening infection in the small airways of the lungs.

There is no vaccine or effective antiviral treatment for children. Manitoba does have an RSV prophylaxis program that provides a treatment (palivizumab) against RSV infection. However, since the treatment is very expensive, it’s only given to those young children at the highest risk for a severe disease.

Therefore, we need a better way to treat and stop the spread of RSV in young children. A method known as drug repurposing identifies existing drugs that can be used to treat diseases other than those for which they were intended. This saves money and time in developing new treatments.

Here, we will study the repurposing of disulfiram, a drug used to treat alcoholism, against RSV infection.  Our preliminary results show that disulfiram reduced RSV infection of lung cells. We will study the antiviral effects of disulfiram against RSV infection using cells collected from healthy volunteers , and a mouse model of RSV infection.

We will test the efficacy of different treatment times with disulfiram and whether it decreases inflammation and viral spread. Drug repurposing using disulfiram could lead to a novel strategy to treat RSV infection in young children.