Research provides new hope for treatment of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease

A new scientific discovery, thanks to one of the research groups at Griffith University’s Institute for Glycomics, is providing new hope for the development of an effective treatment of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD).

Led by the Institute’s Founder and Director, Professor Mark von Itzstein AO, the research group has just published a paper in ACS Infection Diseases.

The researchers have discovered potent small molecules which block the early stages of EV71 infection and opens up the potential for novel drugs for treatment.

“We are hopeful that the findings of this research project will lead to an effective treatment to fight HFMD in its very early stages, and in turn offer peace of mind to millions of people around the world, especially concerned parents.” Professor von Itzstein said. Enterovirus 71 (EV71) is a large family of viruses that is a major cause of HFMD, a highly contagious, generally self-limiting illness. Although EV71 can infect both children and adults, it is most commonly observed in children under 5 years of age, with those aged under 2 years at higher risk of developing a severe EV71 infection.

As the name suggests, the disease is characterised by mild rashes on the hands, feet and mouth; however, in severe cases, HFMD can lead to meningitis, encephalitis, polio-like paralysis, and even death. There are currently no drugs on the market to effectively treat HFMD.

EV71 has caused outbreaks of HFMD worldwide and has been increasingly prevalent across the Asia-Pacific region, where it has become a major public health issue. In China alone, there were some 9 million cases of HFMD reported between 2008 and 2013, with nearly 2,500 confirmed deaths. More recent findings report that between 1 and 31 July 2018, a total of 377,629 cases of HFMD and four deaths were reported in China, which is a 27% increase from the same period in 2017.

“In recent years there appears to have been a significant increase in HFMD in Asia,” said Dr Benjamin Bailly, lead virologist on the study.

In Australia, large outbreaks of EV71 infection have been reported and all outbreaks included cases of patients with severe neurological disease. Significant outbreaks have been reported in major Australian cities over the past three years with childcare centres and kindergartens being at higher risk.

“The increasing incidence of HFMD outbreaks, and the potential for severe complications, is now driving antiviral drug discovery research to combat enterovirus A infection, in particular EV71,” said Dr Chih-Wei Chang, lead chemist and joint senior author on the study.