Scientists are researching a new compound that could wipe out the common cold, influenza and many other viral infections. The researcher behind it says the discovery could be bigger than penicillin, with far less resistance.
Two or three times a year most of us go through the misery of the common cold. That’s not even counting the stomach bug and other viruses.
Dr. Todd Rider, a scientist at the Draper laboratory in Massachusetts, is working on a way to cure viruses by getting virus-infected cells to commit suicide while keeping a person’s healthy cells intact. He calls it Draco.
“DRACO is looking for this particular type of RNA that is only made by a very broad spectrum of viruses and it finds that and knows that the cell is infected.” Dr. Rider told Ivanhoe.
He created draco by combining three molecules. One invades cells in the body. Another detects viral RNA, and a third causes the infected cells to self-destruct. Without the infected cells the virus cannot replicate.
“Think about a burglar alarm inside every house. Draco works by rewiring certain parts of that burglar alarm to make them more effective.” Dr. Rider said.
Once the Draco treatment is produced, it is added to cells infected with viruses and tested.
Draco has worked against 15 viruses so far in Dr. Rider’s experiments. He hopes to get more funding so he can do further testing. The treatment has been shown to be non-toxic to all of the cell types tested thus far including those from humans.
VIRAL INFECTIONS: It’s common knowledge that a cold or flu brings with it coughing, sneezing, headaches and more. Viral infections can happen in many places spread throughout the body. Viral infections aren’t usually serious but can progress into something severe if treatment options aren’t taken. General guidelines state that you should see a doctor if the symptoms persist for more than seven days and should contact a doctor immediately if you develop a red rash or feel pain in your upper chest. Unlike a bacterial infection, antibiotics can’t help with viral infections and should not be taken. (Source: http://www.earlydoc.com/en/diseases/viral_infection)
CAUSES: If a virus makes it past the body’s immune system, it will make its way into the body’s cells and begins reproducing and multiplying. Eventually it spreads to cells throughout the body and leads to a viral infection. There are different ways to come in contact with a virus including being bitten by an insect or animal with the virus, touching surfaces containing the virus and eating food or drinking something contaminated with the virus. Doctors agree that the best defense against virus infections is to avoid getting a virus in the first place by constantly washing your hands with warm water and anti-bacterial soap. (Source: http://www.healthgrades.com/conditions/viral-diseases--causes)
NEW TECHNOLOGY: There may finally be a way to fight off the common cold and other viruses for good. DRACO (Double-stranded RNA Activated Caspase Oligomerizer) is a compound created by researchers that utilizes a self-destruct protein to get virus-infected cells to commit suicide, while keeping healthy cells unharmed. In early tests on lab-grown cells, DRACO was found to cure 15 different viruses. The compound has also been used in the cells of lab mice for H1N1 and produced successful results. Researchers at the Draper Laboratory hope to receive more funding so they can begin testing in larger animals and eventually progress to human trials. (Source: http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/BiodefenseRelated/Biodefense/Pages/DRACO.aspx)
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Todd Rider, Ph.D., Lead Scientist on the DRACO Project.
So what does DRACO stand for?
Dr. Rider: DRACO stands for Double-stranded RNA Activated Caspase Oligomerizer. It took longer to come up with the acronym than the actual idea.
What are you working on?
Dr. Rider: The goal is to have a very broad spectrum treatment for viruses, something that would cure most viruses that are currently untreatable.
And some of the viruses you are talking about?
Dr. Rider: Viruses we’ve cured so far include everything from the common cold to dengue hemorrhagic fever, but potentially this could be useful for other viruses like HIV, hepatitis, Ebola, and all sorts of additional viruses.
How does it work?
Dr. Rider: DRACO is designed to find cells that are infected by viruses. Viruses have to hijack our cells in order to replicate. A virus will go inside one of your cells, and take over and convert one of your cells into a factory to produce more copies of a virus. DRACO will identify those cells that are infected by a virus and kill those cells to eliminate the infection. The virus can’t replicate without those infected cells. The cell has learned that viruses make this long double-stranded RNA which is different than what cells normally make, and cells have developed natural proteins that recognize that and try to activate defenses to fight off the viruses. The problem is that the viruses have learned about those defenses, so even though the viruses get detected, they shut down the response. We just literally took half the gene for one of these natural detectors of viral RNA and half the gene for another natural protein to kill infected cells and glued them together, and then we produced the DRACO protein from that. It’s a therapeutic protein rather like insulin or interferon, but made from DNA that we have spliced together.
So what’s happening here?
Dr. Rider: DRACOs are designed to freely penetrate inside all the cells in the body, and once inside cells, they’re looking for long double-stranded RNA which is made by virtually any virus, but not by healthy human cells. If they go inside a cell and they find long double-stranded RNA, they know that a virus has infected that cell, and the DRACOs will rapidly activate a suicide switch and kill that infected cell. All the uninfected cells are not harmed by the DRACOs, and ultimately the DRACOs will just go away.
What are these?
Dr. Rider: These are genes for the DRACOs. These are based on natural human genes which were spliced together in new ways to create the DRACO therapeutic. Ultimately, these will go into bacteria, which will then produce the therapeutic DRACO protein that we add to cells or to mice or hopefully someday to people.
How many of those will you do?
Dr. Rider: I’m going to set up these five tubes here.
So, what’s in the vial?
Dr. Rider: I had the DRACO genes which I showed you in one vial and then the purple stuff is loading dye just to help us see where the genes start in the DNA gel which we’ll run in just a minute.
So, tell me what’s the next step, what’s happening?
Dr. Rider: Sure, the next step is to take the various DRACO DNA’s and to add them to each of these wells here, as well as certain size markers, and then run the DNA’s on the gel and separate them as different sizes.
And what does this do for it?
Dr. Rider: This shows that the DRACO DNA is intact. It has the intended size and so it’s not something else that accidentally snuck in there.
How does DRACO do all this?
Dr. Rider: DRACO is looking for long double-stranded RNA which is made by virtually all viruses. Our cells make RNA, which is similar to DNA, but they don’t make long double-stranded RNA. DRACO is looking for this particular type of RNA that is only made by a very broad spectrum of viruses, and if it finds that, it knows that a cell is infected by some virus, almost any virus.
How is it able to find the long stranded RNA?
Dr. Rider: DRACO has three domains to it. The DRACO therapeutic has one domain or one tag which helps it to enter cells freely, so it can go inside human cells. It has a second domain or part of it which lets it recognize double-stranded RNA. That domain is borrowed from natural human proteins that are just naturally optimized to bind to viral RNA. Its third domain is designed to rapidly kill those infected cells.
People have been scratching their head for years and years for the common cold. How did you come up with the idea?
Dr. Rider: There were very few treatments for viruses, and the ones that existed were specific just for HIV, or just for hepatitis, etc. I wanted to come up with new treatments for viruses that would be effective against many viruses. I started looking at the ways that cells naturally tried to detect and fight off viruses and I realized with DRACO I could take part of the natural double-stranded RNA defense and link it to the natural cell-killing defense inside cells. Thus, I ended up with DRACO.
Currently, how does the body try to ward off some sort of virus?
Dr. Rider: There are two broad mechanisms in the body. One which people are more familiar with is the immune system, consisting of a relatively small number of white blood cells running around your body producing antibodies and doing other things to look for specific pathogens that you have previously had or been vaccinated for. The other which people are less familiar with is that every cell in your body has natural defenses built inside of it. Think of it as a burglar alarm inside every house. DRACO works by rewiring certain parts of that burglar alarm to make them more effective.
What stage of DRACO are you currently in?
Dr. Rider: We have shown that DRACO is effective against 15 different viruses, everything from the common cold to dengue hemorrhagic fever, in 11 different cell types. These cell types are both human cell types and animal cells. We have also shown it’s nontoxic in mice and effective against four viruses in preliminary trials in mice.
Right now you’re looking to get funding and then what would be the next stages?
Dr. Rider: If we can get enough funding, we’d like to test against additional viruses both in cells and mice, then move on to larger animals and hopefully up to human trials, but that’s many years away, even if we can find the funding.
This information is intended for additional research purposes only. It is not to be used as a prescription or advice from Ivanhoe Broadcast News, Inc. or any medical professional interviewed. Ivanhoe Broadcast News, Inc. assumes no responsibility for the depth or accuracy of physician statements. Procedures or medicines apply to different people and medical factors; always consult your physician on medical matters.
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Todd Rider, PhD.
Draper lab and MIT
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