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A "medical silver bullet" that can disable a variety of dangerous viruses has been discovered by American scientists.

Benhur Lee, a microbiologist from the University of California in Los Angeles, in the United States, discovered the substance while screening 30,000 compounds to find one that can fight Nipah virus, which first appeared in Malaysia in 1999 and has since caused at least 12 outbreaks in South-East Asia.

His team identified a compound called LJ001 that disrupts the virus's ability to infect human cells.

It does this by attaching itself to certain molecules in the envelope that encloses the Nipah virus. Whilst the living host cell can repair such damage to its membrane, non-living virus particles have no such ability and so LJ001 blocks their ability to infect.

Now the scientists have found that the compound does the same to other viruses that have envelopes, such as Ebola, HIV and common flu.

This is "a fascinating piece of work on an unexpected finding," said Warner Greene, director of the Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology at the University of California, San Francisco in the United States.

But, he added, "from a therapeutic point of view it is a very, very early finding".

Link to full article in Scientific American