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The left panel shows treated and untreated cells in regards to the common cold virus (rhinovirus) while the right panel shows treated and untreated monkey cells in regards to dengue hemorrhagic fever virus  (Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
Double-stranded RNA Activated Caspase Oligomerizers (DRACOs) could be the answer for terminating viruses like H1N1 influenza, stomach viruses, a polio virus, several types of hemorrhagic fever and dengue fever

Viruses like the common cold and influenza are infections that we occasionally must ride out. All anyone can really do is rest and take medications to ease the symptoms, which can range from congestion to fever to vomiting. Other viruses, such as Ebola, can be potentially fatal due to Ebola hemorrhagic fever.

While many bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics, not many viral infections can be treated with medications. Only a "handful" can fight viruses, like the protease inhibitors to control HIV, but most other treatments only relieve the symptoms, and even that can take several days in some cases. Viruses are difficult to attack because they change and replicate in healthy cells.

But now, a team of researchers at MIT's Lincoln Laboratory may have found the cure for the common cold as well as many other viruses like H1N1 influenza, stomach viruses, a polio virus, several types of hemorrhagic fever and dengue fever. The team, led by Todd Rider, a senior staff scientist in Lincoln Laboratory's Chemical, Biological and Nanoscale Technologies Group, created therapeutic agents called Double-stranded RNA Activated Caspase Oligomerizers (DRACOs) which have successfully terminated viral infections.

Viruses infect cells by taking over the cell entirely and multiplying. While making copies of themselves, the viruses also produce long strings of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA). This is not found in animal or human cells.

To fight these infected cells, healthy human cells have proteins that bind to dsRNA, which then prompts a series of reactions that work to stop the virus from making copies of itself. The problem is that the virus can block one of the healthy cells' series of steps to prevent its replication somewhere down the line, allowing the virus to change and further reproduce once again.

To remedy this problem, Rider and his team mixed a dsRNA protein with another protein that causes cells to go through apoptosis, which is programmed cell suicide. One end of the DRACO binds to dsRNA while the other end is instructed to launch cell suicide.

Also, each DRACO consists of a "delivery tag" that they received from naturally occurring proteins. This allows it to enter any human or animal by crossing cell membranes, meaning that it can combat a broad spectrum of viruses, possibly including new outbreaks.

The team tested the DRACOs in human and animal cells cultured in the lab as well as mice infected with the H1N1 influenza virus. They found that DRACO left the mice fully cured of the infection, and that DRACO is not toxic to these animals. In addition, DRACO only targeted cells with dsRNA present while leaving healthy cells alone.

Rider and his team are now testing DRACO on other viruses in mice, and hope to eventually test it on larger animals and humans.

This study was published in PLoS One.

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Shedding some light
By geddarkstorm on 8/30/2011 12:04:32 PM , Rating: 5
Reading the comments, I can see there is some important details that need to be elucidated about why this is so amazing; and why, unlike other antivirals, viruses won't be able to mutate themselves out of this one.

There are three parts of our immune system. Most everyone knows about the adaptive (antibodies), and some know about the innate (inflammation). But the third part of the immune system is the intrinsic, which is the immune system INSIDE each and every cell itself. It's designed specifically to fight off viruses. There are three main effectors that drive this intrinsic, cellular, immune system; but the core of it all is the dsRNA binding protein. That protein is what this article is about.

dsRNA leads to RNA interference which is how we generally resist most viruses. But what this team of researchers have brilliantly done, is make a fusion protein putting dsRNA binding protein fused to a caspase. Caspases are proteinases (slice up and destroy proteins) that trigger a cell's autodestruct sequence. Autodestructing destroys the intruding virus(es) as well, and is a primary means the body uses to stop acute viral infections before the adaptive immune system kicks in a week down the road.

By using the anti-viral scanner (dsRNA binding protein) and fusing it with the autodestruct protein, these researchers have made a chimera that will detect basically any viral infection (yes INCLUDING retroviruses like HIV, when not in latent phase) and trigger a cell to nuke itself and the virus.

Since this is being mediated solely through HOST factors (your own cells and your own proteins), a virus can do little to mutate and stop this, as it's not targeting anything the virus has, but yourself. Us humans would have to mutate to nullify this method of killing viruses, and that's not going to happen for a very, very long time if ever.

All this together truly makes this a potential cure as revolutionary as antibiotics. You are looking at the potential future: a single pill or injection that can wipe out a viral infection from your body; and to which viruses can't rapidly build resistance.

You what to know what's better? Linking these caspases to other sensor proteins may allow us to target and eliminate all sorts of aberrant cells that have unique signals or states, such as cancer.

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