Monday, October 3, 2011

The beginning of the end for the flu virus?

Vaccines have been the weapon of choice against viruses, and I have talked about them here on several occasions. Now research is exploring a new therapy: an antiviral drug called Double-Stranded RNA Activated Caspase Oligerizer (DRACO). Catchy name aside, what does DRACO do? It targets cells that have been infected by a virus, hunting the signature mechanism by which viruses reproduce.

The majority of viruses reproduce in four steps:
  1. Fixation and entry of the virus into the targeted cell.
  2. Copy the genes of the virus using the cell’s power.
  3. Bundling of virus particles.
  4. Emergence of many copies of the new virus to spread the infection to other cells.
Dr. Todd Rider and his colleagues from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, are targeting the second step in the viral reproductive process. When their genetic material is copied inside the cells, the virus produces a structure called “double-stranded RNA”; because this unique structure is missing in non-infected cells, a protein tied specifically to the double-stranded RNA allows for the specific targeting of the cells containing the virus. By combining this protein with another protein that triggers cell death through apoptosis, it becomes possible to eliminate the infected cells without any side effects on the healthy cells.

Still with me? In short, DRACO targets cells with long strings of double-stranded RNA, causing them to commit cell suicide while ignoring the other healthy cells.

Dr. Rider's research has been tested on 15 different viruses, including H1N1 influenza, and it was effective against them all. The possible catch is that this research was primarily conducted on mammalian cells cultured in a lab, which leaves the possibility that the drug might not work on living animals. More recent work on the drug's effect on mice infected with influenza has continued to yield promising results.

If perfected, DRACO could revolutionize the treatment of viral diseases. Vaccines are effective, until the virus mutates. An antiviral drug could continue to work when vaccines fail. More research and time is needed to determine whether the new treatment is safe and effective for treating viral infection in humans.

1 comment:

  1. This is interesting because it gives researchers the ability to target specific, infected cells by basically derailing the viral replication cycle thus preventing further infection. Of course I'd love to know the technical aspects of this novel technique as to whether it would indeed present a viable treatment option.