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“With scientific research, every question you answer leads to three more questions,” says Reiss. “The questions I’m asking will translate into research that I hope will be able to cure people with viral encephalopathy. But you have to understand the basics first. You can’t do a shotgun approach.”
Recent experiments on infected mice—by Reiss and others—have found that West Nile virus sneaks into brain cells by attaching to fatty proteins on the cell membrane. These same proteins are targeted by a class of prescription drugs called bisphosphonates (one, Fosamax, is used to treat osteoporosis). Reiss will approach the question of how to cure viral encephalitis by pitting these drugs against the virus, first in test tubes and then in infected mice. She has tried this approach with other drugs, but the choice to use bisphosphonates for her next experiment is a direct result of her research on proteins. If she’s successful, a drug that’s already in your neighborhood pharmacy could be used to prevent West Nile virus.