Microscopic view of the H1N1 influenza virus
MIT researchers may have discovered the cure for viruses like the common cold, H1N1 flu (pictured) and Dengue fever. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have unveiled a new “superdrug,” which they say is capable of curing any virus from influenza to the common cold. The drug is long way from human trials but has been successful in killing viruses in mice by attacking genetic materials in viruses.

Drug targets genetic code of viruses

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently published the results of a development study in the journal PLoS One, according to Time, that shows astonishing promise. A new “superdrug” called DRACO has the potential to kill any and all viruses, including deadly hemorrhagic fevers, polio, all strains of influenza and the common cold. The drug targets the genetic information that viruses use to replicate. DRACO, or Double-stranded RNA Activated Capsase Oligomerizer, attacks a form of ribonucleic acid, a compound found in all forms of life on earth, that only cells that are infected with a virus produce, according to MIT News.

Novel approach to fighting disease

When a healthy cell is infected with a virus, it produces double-stranded RNA that the virus uses to replicate and spread throughout the body, until the virus-infected cell dies. What inspired the MIT researchers was the fact that there are numerous broad-spectrum anti-bacterial medications that target bacterial infections, but no such drug exists for viruses. Only a handful of retro-viral medicines exist, and they mostly target specific viruses. One component of DRACO latches onto the double-stranded RNA, or dsRNA, that virus-infected cells produce. The other component initiates a process called apoptosis, or cellular self-destruction. The human immune system latches onto dsRNA naturally and sets off a “cascading” chain reaction to interrupt viral replication, which viruses can get around by blocking parts of this process. DRACO uses the natural defense of the body to find invading viral cells, latch onto them and destroy them. However, according to U.S. News and World Report, DRACO doesn’t kill any cells in its path, it targets viral dsRNA alone, leaving healthy cells unharmed.

Something around the mouse

The study looked at the effects of DRACO in various mammalian cells, including human and mouse, and found the drug was effective in curing 15 different viruses. According to CNET, viruses DRACO was tested on included four rhinoviruses, which cause the common cold, two strains of H1N1 influenza and various other viruses including one strain of Dengue fever. Dengue, according to the CDC, is not curable. Live mice were cured of H1N1, the “swine flu” that nearly caused a world-wide panic in 2009 and 2010, without side effects. It was also observed to be non-toxic in human lung, liver and kidney tissues. However, according to U.S. News and World Report, DRACO is not going to be available for some time. The researchers estimate it will be a decade before animal and human trials will have concluded and DRACO will be available for human use.


Time: http://healthland.time.com/2011/08/11/mit-scientists-develop-a-drug-to-fight-any-viral-infection/

MIT News: http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2011/antiviral-0810.html

U.S. News and World Report: http://health.usnews.com/health-news/managing-your-healthcare/infectious-diseases/articles/2011/08/11/superdrug-against-range-of-viruses-shows-promise-in-animal-trials

CNET: http://news.cnet.com/8301-27083_3-20091738-247/superdrug-takes-out-common-cold-other-viruses/

Wikipedia on RNA: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RNA

Centers for Disease Control: http://www.cdc.gov/dengue/

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