New drug could cure nearly any viral infection

New drug could cure nearly any viral infection

4:40 PM, 11th August 2011
New drug could cure nearly any viral infection
DRACO successfully treats viral infections. (L) Four photos, common cold virus kills untreated human cells (lower L). Cures infected cell population (lower R). Also (R) four photos, dengue hemorrhagic fever virus kills untreated monkey cells (lower L). It cures infected cell population (lower R).


CAMBRIDGE, US: Current drugs are useless against viral infections, including influenza, common cold and deadly hemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola. Now, in a development that could transform treatment of viral infections, researchers at MIT’s Lincoln lab have designed a drug that can identify cells that have been infected by any type of virus and then kill those cells to terminate the infection.

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.

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,” said Todd Rider, a Senior Staff Scientist in Lincoln lab’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, said Rider.

Other members of the research team are Lincoln Lab Staff Members Scott Wick, Christina Zook, Tara Boettcher, Jennifer Pancoast and Benjamin Zusman.

Presently, there are a handful of drugs that combat specific viruses. Rider drew inspiration for his therapeutic agents, dubbed DRACOs (Double-stranded RNA Activated Caspase Oligomerizers), from living cells’ own defense systems.

When viruses infect a cell, they take over its cellular machinery to create more copies of the virus. During this process, the viruses create long strings of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA). As a natural defense against viral infection, human cells have proteins that latch onto dsRNA that prevents the virus from replicating itself.

Rider had the idea to combine a dsRNA-binding protein with another protein that induces cells to undergo apoptosis (programmed cell suicide). Therefore, when one end of the DRACO binds to dsRNA, it signals the other end of the DRACO to initiate cell suicide.

“Combining those two elements is a “great idea” and a novel approach,” said Karla Kirkegaard, Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, Stanford University.

Since each DRACO is taken from naturally occurring proteins, it is allowed to cross cell membranes and enter any human or animal cell. However, if no dsRNA is present, DRACO leaves the cell unharmed.

Researchers tested DRACO in mice infected with the H1N1 influenza virus. When mice were treated with DRACO, they were completely cured of the infection. Rider says he hopes to license the technology for trials in larger animals and for eventual human clinical trials.

This work is funded by a grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the New England Regional Centre of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases, with previous funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Defense Threat Reduction Agency and Director of Defense Research & Engineering (now the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering).

(C) Massachusetts Institute of Technology News




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