Researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and San Diego State University have found a synthetic protein that can start up the immune system and combat the flu if activated within 24 hours.

The study was conducted on mice that were given a strain of the influenza virus, followed by the synthetic protein called EP67 within 24 hours. The protein “acts to bring inflammatory cells to the site of tissue injury [and] infection and to subsequently activate their effector responses.” Normally, mice lose up to 20 percent of their body weight when infected with influenza, but when they received the protein, they lost an average of 6 percent. Some mice, in fact, did not lose any weight at all.

And perhaps more importantly, of the mice that were given a particularly lethal dose of the influenza virus, none of them died.

Researchers are extremely hopeful about the efficacy of the protein, and the potential applications to its usage. According to the paper, “EP67 may well prove equally efficacious against a wide variety of possible viral, bacterial, and fungal pathogens. Such a strategy could be used to stop the worldwide spread of emergent respiratory diseases, including but not limited to novel strains of influenza.” Researchers think that it would have particularly useful implications for emergency workers, and patients’ loved ones. And, while the strains of influenza virus did not include the particularly lethal H5N1 “avian flu” virus, researchers are hopeful that the protein could provide aid against the virus.

Scientists believe that the protein has been indicated to work in mammals, and even chickens. Joy A. Phillips, lead author of the paper, pointed out that, while research on fighting contagions tends to center on humans, it is important to keep animals, particularly ones that are used for food supply, healthy as well.

The study was published in PLoS One.