One of the greatest discoveries of the 20th Century was the discovery of antibiotics – drugs that act to cure a broad variety of bacterial infections. However, antibiotics are only useful against those same bacteria. For other infections, particularly viruses, the primary treatment options are: vaccination to prevent infection, antiviral agents that only work against specific viruses (sometimes only specific strains of viruses) and just doing the best you can do to keep a patient healthy and hydrated while their own immune system does the heavy lifting. However, if recent research pays off, doctors may be able to add the antiviral equivalent of broad-spectrum antibiotics to their anti-virus arsenals.The research, recently published in PLoS One, describes a novel approach to broad spectrum antivirals, which is based in part on how the human immune system takes down viruses. When a virus infects a cell in a human or an animal, it uses the machinery of that cell to reproduce, as viruses can’t reproduce on their own. During the reproduction process, the virus causes the creation of long chains of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA), which doesn’t naturally exist in either human or animal cells. When infected by a virus, the immune system typically targets those chains of dsRNA in an attempt to prevent replication.
The approach by this research team, however, takes it one step further. The drug they developed (dubbed “DRACO”) has two parts – a portion that binds to the dsRNA, and another portion that, once bound to dsRNA, triggers the cell to destroy itself. If no dsRNA is present in the cell, DRACO should have no effect. The results were pretty remarkable – in tissue cultures, DRACO was successful at eliminating cells that were infected by 15 different viruses, including those that cause the common cold, H1N1 influenza, polio, and dengue fever.
Even more impressive is that the team also conducted trials with live mice – which showed the same results. Not only were the infections eliminated, but their investigation showed no accumulation of toxic substances in the mice, confirming that the drugs were only targeting the infected cells.There’s obviously a long way to go before DRACO goes mainstream. The next step for the team is to get the drug licensed for large animal and eventual human testing. If those tests are successful, though, then DRACO may well be as revolutionary for the treatment of viral infections as penicillin was for bacterial infections. – Yahoonews