AUSTRALIAN scientists have used a new supercomputer to simulate the movement of the virus that causes the common cold for the first time.
The breakthrough opens up new targets for potentially life-saving drug treatments.
While the common cold does not cause much harm to healthy individuals, it often exacerbates lung conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, causing hospitalisations and deaths.
For this reason, scientists are trying to find new treatments for rhinovirus, the most frequent cause of the common cold.
The deputy director of St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Professor Michael Parker, said he and his team had been working with the pharmaceutical company Biota Holdings to understand the rhinovirus, in an effort to develop a new drug to treat it in vulnerable people.
His team had used Melbourne’s synchrotron microscope to look at the three-dimensional structure of the virus and the supercomputer to show how the virus moves.
”If you consider a virus as an organism, this is the first simulation of a whole organism, which is pretty exciting,” he said.
”No one has been able to do this before. It helps us understand how the virus works.”
Professor Parker said the information was useful for Biota, which has its drug in phase two trials, but would also be published so scientists worldwide could use it.
”For some people, it could be the difference between life and death,” he said.
Professor Parker said the simulation had also raised hopes that they could do the same for other viruses including polio and meningitis.
”All this work we’re doing now with the supercomputer will hopefully open up new paths for drug discovery,” he said.
Professor James McCluskey, the deputy vice-chancellor for research at the University of Melbourne, where the supercomputer is based, said it was a ”terrific facility for Victorian life science researchers”.