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The Virus-Fighting Superstar

Updated: Jul 21, 2023

#22 Science in History

16 January 1980


On this day in 1980, a team of scientists at a Boston-based research facility announced a major development, a scientific advance that would change the course of medical history.

Using genetic engineering, they were able to produce interferon, a natural virus-fighting substance that had previously only been found in small amounts in the human body.


Interferon is a protein that plays a critical role in the body's immune response to viral infections. It works by binding to specific receptors on the surface of cells, triggering a cascade of events that ultimately leads to the inhibition of viral replication. This makes it an important tool in the fight against a wide range of viral diseases, including influenza, hepatitis, and even certain types of cancer.


The scientists' achievement was significant because, prior to this breakthrough, interferon could only be obtained from small amounts of blood plasma or other bodily fluids. This made it difficult to produce in large quantities and made it expensive to obtain. With the ability to produce interferon through genetic engineering, the researchers were able to produce it in large quantities and at a much lower cost.


This discovery opened the door for the development of new and more effective treatments for viral infections. It also marked the beginning of the biotechnology industry, which has since grown to become a major contributor to the global economy. Today, genetically engineered interferon is used to treat a wide range of viral infections, including hepatitis B and C, and is also being investigated as a potential treatment for other diseases such as multiple sclerosis.




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