I have a flu today so I thought I’d briefly hunt for a cure before going back to sleep. I don’t want to just treat symptoms, I want a cure. Yes, there may actually be one… in about a decade. I expect my flu to be gone by then, so the slow pace is annoying. With something like this people should get excited, many labs around the world should join in the research, ramp it up, make the damn thing happen.
Forget the flu shot—how about a flu cure? And along with it, a cure for HPV, chickenpox, and West Nile virus? According to a new study published in PloS One, researchers have found a way to disrupt nearly all viruses—including those we haven’t heard of yet.
The experimental antiviral is called DRACO (Double-stranded RNA Activated Caspase Oligomerizer). In tests, it saved mice infected with a lethal dose of H1N1 influenza.
DRACO targets double-stranded RNA (dsRNA), which appears only in virus-infected cells as part of the virus’s reproduction process. Via a protein, it causes cells with dsRNA to die while preserving uninfected cells. Cleaning up the remains of the dead cells poses no challenge for your body, meaning that a treatment causes few side effects.
Since virtually all viruses depend on dsRNA to reproduce, DRACO could be a breakthrough with wide-ranging applications, says Todd Rider, Ph.D., who invented the therapy with researchers at MIT Lincoln Laboratory’s Chemical, Biological, and Nanoscale Technologies Group. “So far we have tested DRACO against 15 different viruses, everything from the common cold to hemorrhagic fever viruses, and it has been effective against all of them,” Rider says.
A potentially groundbreaking drug appears effective against a wide range of viral infections, including the common cold, flu, stomach viruses, polio and dengue fever — at least in mice.
The new drug is made from living cell’s own defense systems and works by targeting a type of genetic material found only in those cells infected by viruses, MIT researchers explained.
“Currently there are very few antiviral treatments, and most that do exist are highly specific for individual viruses or have undesirable side effects,” noted lead researcher Todd Rider, a senior staff scientist at Lincoln Laboratory’s Chemical, Biological, and Nanoscale Technologies Group, which is part of MIT.
The new drug is called DRACO (from the more unwieldy “double-stranded RNA activated caspase oligomerizers”). According to Rider, it “has the potential to safely treat or prevent a broad spectrum of viral infections.”
Still, a long road awaits before humans might benefit, if ever. Clinical trials remain years away and any drug available to patients might not materialize for a decade, Rider said. …
“We are hoping to license this technology to a pharmaceutical company that can carry it through larger animal trials and human clinical trials. Realistically, it will probably be at least a decade before you can buy DRACO at the drug store.” Rider said.
Mario Stevenson, a professor of medicine and chief of the division of infectious diseases at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine agreed that the approach is innovative. “But there is a big difference in administering a protein to mice and doing the same protein in humans,” he said. “We have learned the hard way that in going from mice to men there are many hurdles to overcome.”
How does Draco work?
Natural proteins in an infected cell detect the presence of a virus. These proteins are sensitive to double stranded RNA, a genetic molecule unique to and present in nearly all viruses.
Todd Rider has taken one of these natural proteins and bound it to another natural protein – also present in all cells – that triggers cell suicide.
To help the new protein penetrate a cell, he added a feature that imitates part of the HIV virus, borrowing that virus’ ability to break into cells.
Once administered, the drug travels to every cell in the body but it will only activate in infected cells.
In a matter of hours, the RNA-sensing part of the drug detects the virus and activates the cell suicide part. When the host cell dies, so does the virus.
I’m wondering if visualizing this cell suicide happening naturally everywhere I detect a viral invader will cure me quickly of this flu that has now moved into my lungs. Worth a try. I’ll sit in the sun in my garden and meditate on healing like this for 30 minutes.