Tag Archives: virus

DRACO could cure the common cold (and cancer)

30 Aug

Winter is coming, and the dreaded cold and flu season will shortly follow. Herbal remedies and bucket-loads of tea may soothe the symptoms of winter sniffles, but the common cold virus itself is famously incurable. That might be about to change, however, thanks to new research at MIT.

In a paper published in 2011, a group of researchers at MIT introduced the world to DRACO: double-stranded RNA Activated Caspase Oligomeriser. DRACO is an innovative anti-viral agent that identifies cells infected by viruses, and then induces ‘cell-suicide’, causing infected cells to die and stop the reproduction of the virus.

Viral diseases are common, and can be much more deadly than the common cold. Chickenpox, hepatitis, influenza (including swine flu and bird flu), polio, herpes, and HIV/AIDS are just a few of the diseases caused by viral infection. Some diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, have been linked to viral infections, although may not be directly caused by a specific virus.

Treatments for specific viruses exist, but viruses have the unfortunate tendency to grow resistant to individual treatments. The flu shot is targeted to a different influenza virus every year, because the disease mutates rapidly, limiting the effectiveness of the previous year’s treatment.

DRACO is the first ‘broad-spectrum’ anti-viral agent. It is not tailor-made to a specific virus, but is able to identify a wide range of viruses by spotting viral RNA (genetic data) inside an organism’s cells. So far, research has demonstrated the effectiveness of DRACO in both treating and preventing infections by fifteen different viruses (including rhinovirus; the common cold).

While further research is required before human trials can begin, the potential uses for DRACO are huge. Sniffling and nose-blowing could be eradicated from campus libraries world-wide. Sudden outbreaks of never-before-seen or newly mutated viruses, like SARS in late 2002 or swine-origin H1N1 in 2009, could be treated and contained. Diseases like polio and AIDS could be made a thing of the past. DRACO is not just an awesome acronym; it could potentially save millions of lives.

For more information, the MIT paper on DRACO, Broad-Spectrum Antiviral Theraputics, is available on PLoS ONE (www.plosone.org)