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UMaine Research Associate makes new discoveries on the influenza virus

Michelle Goody is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Maine, focusing on skeletal muscle development and disease in zebrafish embryos. As the influenza season makes its annual entry, Goody has discovered an important factor to consider when debating on the flu shot, especially to the benefit of those with muscle disorders.

To complete this study, Goody injected the flu virus into zebrafish with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). DMD is a genetic disease caused by lack of a protein that helps muscles remain intact. The disease, which affects mostly males, causes progressive weakness and degeneration of the muscles.

Within a day of injecting this virus into two-day-old zebrafish, the animals showed symptoms of the infection, such as swollen hearts, limited mobility and shaking, according to an article published by UMaine.

These results show that this infection can live in the muscle cells of zebrafish, and that “muscle degeneration, pain, and weakness may be, at least in part, due to direct infection of muscle cells by Influenza A virus,” Goody told UMaine. These results further proved that the influenza virus can cause severe muscle damage, suggesting “that muscle damage caused by Dystrophin-deficiency and IAV infection is synergistic,” Goody wrote in her research article, “Influenza: A Virus Infection Damages Zebrafish Skeletal Muscle and Exacerbates Disease in Zebrafish Modeling Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.”

“The flu virus actually gets into your muscles,” Associate Professor Clarissa Henry, who worked as Goody’s advisor, said. “So this is the first time it’s been shown in a live animal,” she told Maine Public.

Goody discovered that in zebrafish, the flu virus damaged muscle fibers in many ways. Through her studies, she uncovered that those that are relatively healthy can rebuild these muscles, but those with diseases such as DMD might not have the same luck. Goody is the first person to discover that the flu virus can infect muscle cells in living animals.

“What Michelle observed was not just a little bit more muscle damage, she pretty much observed that the muscle was completely decimated,” Henry told Maine Public.

Goody’s studies conclude that those suffering with muscular dystrophy would highly benefit from getting the flu shot as her research showed that the flu virus can enter and infect muscle cells, potentially causing permanent damage.

Goody believes that zebrafish are valuable for the study of human genetics and disease as they have a similar genetic structure to humans. She enjoys learning about cell and organ development, according to an article published by UMaine.

While it is recommended for all people to get the flu shot, Goody has proven that it is necessary for those suffering with DMD to receive this vaccination to prevent further muscle damage that can last a lifetime.

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