Viral infections frequently start through the interaction of the virus with cell surface sugars. In normal circumstances, human, avian and swine influenza viruses interact with specific sugars on their host cells. However, hybrid viruses or mutant variants can lead to a cross-species jump (zoonotic outbreak) with potentially deadly consequences. Discrimination between influenza viruses with different host preferences is therefore critical for surveillance and for choosing which strains of the virus should be included in each year’s vaccines.

The use of sugars enables Iceni Glycoscience to easily identify viruses that can jump species. This will allow us to discriminate between different variants of known viruses (e.g., those used in vaccine production) and even identify emerging viruses that have the potential to trigger pandemics.

Horses, dogs, and cats are also hosts for the influenza virus; this obviously has veterinary implications. Recently, a study by Iceni Glycoscience, relying on sugars to specifically detect the equine influenza H3N8 virus, has demonstrated capabilities in veterinary viral surveillance.