August 12, 2011
Universal Anti-Viral Drug Found?

Too good to be true? You might think this is impossible.

Now, in a development that could transform how viral infections are treated, a team of researchers at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory has designed a drug that can identify cells that have been infected by any type of virus, then kill those cells to terminate the infection.

It works against 15 viruses tested so far.

In a paper published July 27 in the journal PLoS One, the researchers tested their drug against 15 viruses, and found it was effective against all of them — including rhinoviruses that cause the common cold, H1N1 influenza, a stomach virus, a polio virus, dengue fever and several other types of hemorrhagic fever.

When they infect a cell some (all?) viruses cause a type of RNA to be produced that makes the infected cell distinct from uninfected cells. Hence the ability to target and just kill the infected cells.

The drug works by targeting a type of RNA produced only in cells that have been infected by viruses. “In theory, it should work against all viruses,” says Todd Rider, a senior staff scientist in Lincoln Laboratory’s Chemical, Biological, and Nanoscale Technologies Group who invented the new technology.

Because the technology is so broad-spectrum, it could potentially also be used to combat outbreaks of new viruses, such as the 2003 SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak, Rider says.

Imagine this works and has few side effects. If one could get hundreds of millions of people to all take the drug at the same time viruses could be wiped out over a large area. The problem of course would be with travelers. Trying to get everyone on the planet to take a drug at the same time seems impractical. Even getting everyone in a country to take the drug simultaneously seems impossible.

A drug of this sort might work well for a submarine crew. At the start of a voyage into isolation everyone could take the drug and wipe out all viruses in the crew.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 August 12 10:02 PM  Biotech Pathogen Control


Comments
Brett Bellmore said at August 13, 2011 4:21 AM:

There's a quite serious theory that many nominally "degenerative" and "lifestyle" diseases are actually caused by unnoticed infections, rather like ulcers have been found to be caused by a bacterial infection, as are some forms of heart disease. So it's quite possible that taking this drug once, even if you showed no particular symptoms, could clear out any unnoticed viral infections, and spare you some such diseases.

I wonder if rabies would be a good candidate for early human trials, since it's so deadly otherwise, if you get past the effective period for the current treatments.

no said at August 13, 2011 5:48 AM:

But what is the danger to the immune system of not giving it enough work to do, its already suggested that people who grow up in a too clean enviroment are more likely to get some conditions such as asthma.
This drug is going to take that to the extreme. Still a great development though.

DoctorSH said at August 13, 2011 6:17 AM:

For every action, there is an equal reaction. Do we know what this reaction would be?
We are a very germaphobic country. Yet lately we have learned of all the good bacteria that work synergistically with us to balance out and improve our health. Perhaps viruses do the same, first making us sick, but then causing changes in our immune systems that benefit us in the long run.
Before jumping to large sweeping generalizations about how to utilize a potential treatment for viruses, perhaps we should look into a lot more closely.

Nanonymous said at August 13, 2011 8:38 AM:

This is super elegant approach and I think almost everyone was surprised by how well it works. The part of the paper that deals with mice is not nearly as strong however. They do show that the injections protect mice but there is a lot of room open for interpretations on why it happens. Great work but too early to say about its true potential.

PacRim Jim said at August 13, 2011 10:02 AM:

The human brain is taking over as the human immune system.
Memes evolve faster than genes, so the race between humans and microbes might have been won, finally, permanently.

Wolf-Dog said at August 14, 2011 12:14 AM:

But what percentage of the cells in the human body get infected, for example, by the flu virus? If the cure the new drug is offering is to kill the cells already infected by the virus, this can be very bad for the body. For example if already 5 % of the brain cells are already infected by the virus, such a cure would probably cause severe learning disabilities and brain damage.

Wolf-Dog said at August 14, 2011 12:16 AM:

If such a cure is really successful in selecting those cells that must be killed, perhaps it might also work against cancer. In this case it would be a historic breakthrough.

Tusky said at August 14, 2011 4:48 PM:

Wiping out a disease over a large area only poss if humans are the only carriers.

Brett Bellmore said at August 15, 2011 3:36 AM:

Most viruses do kill the cell they're in when they reproduce, (Or at least render them non-functional.) it lives only so long as they don't get around to that. So virus infected cells are already doomed in the long, (Or for acute infections, short) run. There might be an issue with chronic viral infections which go a long time without reproducing; OTOH, it's not clear to me that this drug would actually cause a cell to suicide if the virus were dormant. I think it probably wouldn't.

Read down to "Infection: The Flu Virus at Work" in this article. Flu infected cells ARE going to die, the only question is whether they do it before or after the virus propagates itself.

Wolf-dog, this treatment identifies which cells have to die by means of a "double stranded RNA" which only occurs as a result of viral infection. You'd have to find some other trigger to go after cancer cells. Problem is, this kills the infected cells by triggering "apoptosis", cellular suicide, and defeating apoptosis is one of the changes which cancer cells usually go through. So, even with the right trigger, it might not work on cancer cells.

Cosmoskitten said at August 15, 2011 5:57 AM:

Randall: If you want an expert opinion on this new drug, I suggest you check with Vincent Racaniello Ph.D., Professor of Microbiology at Columbia University Medical Center.

He is also a frequent blogger at Virology blog, http://www.virology.ws , where he explains virology for the public.

An article by him about more open science education can be found at Social Media and Microbiology Education, http://www.plospathogens.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.ppat.1001095

Nick G said at August 15, 2011 4:09 PM:

Brett,

How would endogenous retroviruses be affected? As I understand it, they are inherited and widespread.

Randall,

If you're looking for fits with mythical/fantasy literature: how about DRACO Malfoy?

Brett Bellmore said at August 15, 2011 5:59 PM:

Retro-viruses are transmitted as RNA, but convert themselves into DNA (That's the "retro" part.) and write themselves into your genetic code. While they're just sitting there, there wouldn't be any double stranded RNA present to trigger the compound. A very quick google search suggests that they do sometimes generate double stranded RNA during their reproductive phase.

I am not, however, a virologist, just an interested layman.

I suppose a version of DRACO which triggered on the presence of reverse transcriptase might be feasible, if the retroviruses don't reliably trigger the current version.

Curious George said at August 26, 2011 6:59 AM:

I wonder if this would work on std virus's such as herpes and etc.

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