The Centaur that Killed the Common Cold

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A promising series of tests of a new antiviral drug has researchers so jazzed up about its potential success that they're throwing around wild mythology-inspired comparisons to herald its ingenious lethality. If the drug's daunting name—DRACO—isn't enough to unnerve pesky viruses, sending them scurrying to the darkest recesses of your outermost extremities in search of safe haven, then Bucknell University molecular virologist Marie Pizzorno's explanation of how it mimics the attributes of a centaur surely will:

"The horse is one piece of a protein that normally we make and that can recognize the [long double-stranded DNA] made by the virus, and the man is something that triggers the cell-death pathway."

Most viruses act "sort of like the aliens in the Alien movies," explains Todd Rider, the co-author of the drug study. They enter a cell, replicate inside it, create double-stranded RNA, and destroy the cell from the inside. Up until now, most attempts to attack viruses with antiviral medications have been target specific, with each drug aimed at a particular strain of virus. This has allowed viruses to mutate or become resistant to any given medication.

According to this very illuminating National Geographic post, what DRACO does, inventively, is work with the body's natural defenses to detect the whereabouts of virus-generated double-stranded RNA. The body naturally releases proteins that latch onto the viral RNA to prevent replication. DRACO hitches a ride with these proteins, then triggers the cell's self-destruct mechanism when it locates a virus... halting it in its tracks.

Researchers believe that DRACO's ability to work against multiple viruses simultaneously might signal a sea-change in the way we combat viral infections, much like antibiotics changed the way we dealt with bacterial infections. In addition to possibly eradicating major viruses like HIV, Ebola, and smallpox, the drug might one day help eliminate the supremely aggravating common cold. Though still in its early stages of development, and probably about ten years away from your local pharmacy's highly ineffectual Cold and Flu remedy shelf, DRACO is doing its best Chiron impersonation against our most deadly viruses.

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September 13, 2011 - 2:01pm
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