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Biotech Science

New Drug Could Cure Nearly Any Viral Infection 414

Posted by samzenpus
from the universal-cure dept.
HardYakka writes "A team of researchers at MIT's Lincoln Laboratory have designed a drug that can identify cells that have been infected by any type of virus, then kill those cells to terminate the infection. The researchers tested their drug against 15 viruses, and found it was effective against all of them — including rhinoviruses that cause the common cold, H1N1 influenza, a stomach virus, a polio virus, dengue fever and several other types of hemorrhagic fever."
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New Drug Could Cure Nearly Any Viral Infection

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  • by dtmos (447842) * on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @04:14PM (#37048368)

    1969 called. They want their drug [wikipedia.org] back.

    • by MBCook (132727) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @04:30PM (#37048628) Homepage

      That would actually be my worry. Enough people already take drugs when they have the slight discomfort or to cure their flu (despite anti-bacterials having no effect on the flu). What's going to happen when they can take a drug for all that stuff? At the rate we use drugs, it seems like this one would be burned out and ineffective pretty fast unless the government really restricts it (more the Cipro or other other drugs that are left).

      The idea of bugs that become resistant to all this stuff, or a drug that people can't stop taking because of horrible side effects... that sounds like great news. Can we please be careful not to invent/breed ourselves into a pseduo-Descolada [wikipedia.org]?

      • by HungryHobo (1314109) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @05:02PM (#37049130)

        the thing is that looking into the way that it works: it's hard to see any straightforward way for most of these viruses to evolve a resistance.

        It targets dsRNA which is very central to their life cycle.

        it's the difference between an animal evolving a resistance to a poison and evolving a resistance to having it's internal organs ripped out.

        • by v1 (525388)

          the thing is that looking into the way that it works: it's hard to see any straightforward way for most of these viruses to evolve a resistance.

          It targets dsRNA which is very central to their life cycle.

          Read up on Penicillin [wikipedia.org] for comparison. It was considered a "wonder drug" for the time because it had the same idea, attack a critical mechanism used only by bacteria:

          antibiotics work by inhibiting the formation of peptidoglycan cross-links in the bacterial cell wall.

          Then penicillin went into massive-scale us

          • by AK Marc (707885) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @06:58PM (#37050346)
            But Viruses must change the host cell. They do so to procreate. If they didn't, they would die. Once the virus enters a cell, that cell is going to die. The only difference is whether the cell can be killed quickly before replication, or whether it dies because it made so many virus copies it exploded. This drug apparently attacks cells infected, so the cell is much more likely to die before it has replicated massive numbers of the viruses. That isn't an attack on the virus. That's an attack on the host. So the virus will have little mechanism to evolve out of that, hopefully extending the time this treatment is effective such that global application of this drug (even among the "healthy" who could be carriers or incubating something) could wipe out nearly all viral infections. Every June, everyone in the planet takes 4 weeks of anti-virals, and 10 years later, there are no human-only strains of viruses (the only ones left being ones that can be transferred cross-species, in which case we can address it in the host species via drugs or genocide and cure humans of all viruses. Can we even imagine a world with no viruses?
          • by ceoyoyo (59147)

            You're arguing from analogy without really understanding your analogy.

            Penicillin interferes with the way many bacteria build cell walls, but there are lots that are naturally resistant to penicillin because they build their cell walls differently. Bacteria also love to swap genes, so eventually that minor cell wall modification got spread around. The fact that penicillin was considered a wonder drug had more to do with it being the first antibiotic discovered. And there wasn't really an "idea" with using

    • Well played, good sir. I missed that completely and posted a stupid naive response, accompanied by a loud woosh sound as it went over my head...

  • HIV? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by webmistressrachel (903577) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @04:15PM (#37048376) Journal

    Any news on HIV / AIDS? Strange that that isn't the first virus threw into the petri dish with this stuff, to be honest.

    • This. If it works as well as it says it could be a major breakthrough.
      • by geekoid (135745)

        If it only works on the 15 drugs it would be a major break through... what is seem like it can do, it's a fucking game changer.

    • I'm not an immunologist/molecular biologist, but if this drug works by targeting the infected cells to eliminate the infection, then by the time an HIV-infection is apparent, you might as well target the whole human, and there are already several drugs that do that very effectively. Potassium Cyanide comes to mind, for one...

      • by ceoyoyo (59147)

        You're right, you're not an immunologist.

        There's a rather big difference between T-cells, which is what HIV infects, and "the whole human."

        • Re:HIV? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Firethorn (177587) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @05:14PM (#37049268) Homepage Journal

          There's a rather big difference between T-cells, which is what HIV infects, and "the whole human."

          I agree; at most you'd likely have to stick the person into an isolation area as the die-off of T-Cells blows an HIV infection into an advanced case of AIDS in a matter of hours. Of course, once HIV is purged T-Cells would quickly return to normal levels, probably a couple weeks.

    • Any news on HIV / AIDS? Strange that that isn't the first virus threw into the petri dish with this stuff, to be honest.

      You're thinking like a scientist. Think like a business man. You cure the common cold first. That gets you 9 million units of fame, some nice early revenues from cold cures, and a ginormous grant to test if it can cure HIV as well.

      Well, in reality, HIV is a single-stranded retrovirus, and not a double-stranded virus. Although, if this works, it will mitigate some of the negative effect

      • by geekoid (135745)

        I release it as a cure all, watch my stock quadruples, get a billion dollar bonus and then move on to me pet projects.

        Or, you know release it slowly so the people that come after me can make the serious money.

    • Re:HIV? (Score:5, Informative)

      by digitalderbs (718388) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @05:09PM (#37049204)
      I'm a biophysicist that works on the flu--though not a virologist--and I'd like to mention a couple of related points. First, as another poster had stated, this does not only work for double-stranded RNA viruses. Look at table 1. The influenza virus and HIV are both very similar--class I enveloped viruses with single-stranded RNA genomes. I'd imagine this could have some effect toward HIV, as it is effective with the flu. However, it would appear that once the HIV RNA has been reverse-transcribed to cDNA and integrated into the genome, then the approach presented in this paper would not work--i.e. if you have AIDS, this won't help you.
      • However, it would appear that once the HIV RNA has been reverse-transcribed to cDNA and integrated into the genome, then the approach presented in this paper would not work--i.e. if you have AIDS, this won't help you.

        Won't CURE you, because it won't clean out the dormant virus. But if you're taking it when the virus activates it will kill off the affected cells. So taking it in an ongoing fashion should stop the effects of AIDS and gradually reduce the population of dormant infected cells as they become a

    • by tverbeek (457094)

      HIV is a retrovirus, a kind of virus that a broad-spectrum "cure all" treatment would be least likely to affect. Sure it'd be worth trying at some point, but it really wouldn't be at the top of the list based on having any expectation of success.

  • What's a virus? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by lymond01 (314120) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @04:18PM (#37048412)

    So does a false positive mean you're dead?

    Drug: Must find viruses. Oh, there's one...I think. And that one too. Oooh, actually, they're ALL viruses!

    • Yes, I was wondering that too. Our cells carry loads of genetic material picked up pretty much everywhere. They just go "hey look, some code, I wonder what will happen if I execute it". We just call it a virus if it makes us sick (or rather, sick enough to notice). So what if this medicine attacks something that has already infected all of the cells in our body without us noticing?
      • by beelsebob (529313)

        No, we call it a virus if it injects code into a cell that didn't have that code before. Viruses don't have to make us sick - just be a bit of genetic code that inserts itself into ours. Hence why computer viruses are so named –they're bits of code that inject themselves into the processes of a system.

      • by vlm (69642)

        Our cells carry loads of genetic material picked up pretty much everywhere. They just go "hey look, some code, I wonder what will happen if I execute it".

        There are now at least two valid interpretations of "Humans are DNA based windows users"

      • by overshoot (39700)

        Our cells carry loads of genetic material picked up pretty much everywhere.

        They're called Endogenous Retroviruses [scienceblogs.com].

        Abbie is never gonna forgive me.

      • by ceoyoyo (59147)

        No, your cells don't just pick up any old bit of RNA/DNA and run it. A virus infecting a cell is an invasive thing, that cells are designed to protect against, and generally makes the cell pretty useless afterwards, as far as you're concerned. Occasionally, some viral DNA might get inserted into a cell and the cell will keep functioning. If it's a germ line cell, that viral DNA gets passed on. But that doesn't happen very often.

      • by tloh (451585)

        Michel Colman? Do I know you from somewhere [gene.com]?

    • Maybe. But since only an idiot would take the drug unless they knew they were already infected with something bad, I'd say the risk is acceptable.
    • Re:What's a virus? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by gcnaddict (841664) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @04:40PM (#37048776)
      I'd be more concerned if it treats cells infected with a latent virus in the fashion described here, to be honest.

      For instance, lets assume Alzheimer's is caused (as suspected) by a combination of a defective APoE gene and an HSV1 infection. So if the vast majority of brain cells are infected but the brain is (more or less) still highly functional... wouldn't this theoretically kill every one of those brain cells, essentially advancing alzheimer's itself many-fold in a matter of weeks?
      • by X0563511 (793323)

        It sounds like it only kills cells where the virus is actually replicating

      • by bberens (965711)
        Yes, and/or it would theoretically stop the progression of the alzheimer's if you get it early enough in the process.
  • Not sufficent (Score:2, Insightful)

    by bigsexyjoe (581721)
    For a drug that cures any virus to work, it has to work in a manner that keeps the profits up for big pharma and the medical industry in general. If it doesn't do that, you can't have it.
    • by Chemisor (97276)

      Don't worry. DRACO is patented until 2029.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Bullshit.. as has been seen time and time again.

      The self interest of a CEO to personally gain billions outweighs their desire to see their competitors make money.

      Of course, a person with the brains like yours is bound to jump to the first knee jerk reaction and not think or actually study the industry they are talking about.

  • by rongage (237813) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @04:25PM (#37048532)

    What exactly does this do to the host organism (us) that is carrying these infected (and sub sequentially killed off) cells?

    Since I don't speak micro-biologist, I'm not sure that was even addressed or answered in the article.
     

    • by afidel (530433)
      Almost all cells that are infected will be destroyed anyways once the virus takes it over and uses it as a replication factory so it should be a net win if it is administered before the virus has really had a chance to take off.
    • by X0563511 (793323)

      You'll get really sick as all the dead cells and/or pathogens release toxic nastiness all at once, and provided you survive that you'll get better.

      I forget what this is called, but it's actually a problem when killing off a large infection with antibiotics or such.

      • by Nixoloco (675549)

        I believe you are referring to a Herxheimer reaction [wikipedia.org].
        However, it is usually only associated with the death of bacteria and not virus infected cells.
      • by rts008 (812749)

        I think 'endotoxic shock' was the term used in the past for that.
        It's been 20+ years since I learned this in school, so the name may have changed.

  • With the existence of auto-immune disorders as a warning sign, I can see that this will have lots and lots of trouble getting approval.
  • Todd Rider (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Scareduck (177470) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @04:27PM (#37048566) Homepage Journal

    Also the man who has so far explained why inertial-confinement fusion can't work [fusor.net]. Maybe.

    I knew he was involved in medical research, but this is pretty awesome.

    • The combination of the two fields triggers my "possible crackpot" alert. Plus the fact that googling for "Todd Rider" returns Wikipedia and pop-sci articles, but no "real" scientific publications. Can anyone in the field comment on the credibility/reputation of Dr. Rider? I don't intend to be offensive, maybe he's really a top guy in the field, it's just that both claims are quite bold and I'd be happy to get some external confirmation.
      • The combination of the two fields triggers my "possible crackpot" alert. Plus the fact that googling for "Todd Rider" returns Wikipedia and pop-sci articles, but no "real" scientific publications. Can anyone in the field comment on the credibility/reputation of Dr. Rider? I don't intend to be offensive, maybe he's really a top guy in the field, it's just that both claims are quite bold and I'd be happy to get some external confirmation.

        Yeah, I've just skimmed it. It's plausible. There are two problems - the first is getting it into the cells. The system they used:

        For delivery into cells in vitro or in vivo, DRACOs can be fused with proven protein transduction tags, including a sequence from the HIV TAT protein [28], the related protein transduction domain 4 (PTD) [29], and polyarginine

        really isn't a good drug delivery system. That's the problem with a number of targeted therapies - you have to get to the target in large enough numbers to be useful medically and with an easy enough system to be useful clinically.

        Secondly, what they do is to bind large double stranded RNA molecules (which, according TFA exist primarily in RNA viruses, NOT in mammalian cells)

      • Use Google Scholar [google.com.au] instead of plain Google. He looks to have plenty of real science to his credit. (Although I'm betting those 1930s papers were someone else...)

  • by xclr8r (658786)
    to call in sick and use up my sick days.
  • While there are a few 10k virus forms known and the total number of "variations" goes into the dozens of millions?

    Sounds like a plan for disaster and not like a cure.

  • Given that some 8% of the human genome is from retroviruses [wikipedia.org], some of which may be expressed in some way, perhaps not all the time, -- with good or bad consequences, what side effects may we expect if this 8% causes some cells to be identified as infected? Could it result in huge cell death ?

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      Read the article. The RNA the drug targets is only found in virus infected cells. Either the viral components of our DNA are not expressed or do not cause the cell to produce the right RNA. They tested their drug against non-infected human cells as well as mice, which have similar viral sequences in their DNA.

  • If there were even a tiny fraction of exceptions, things would get very ugly...

  • by pz (113803) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @05:04PM (#37049154) Journal

    Here's the abstract of the paper. Note that the summary forgot to mention that the drug has been tested in normal cell lines as well. Also not mentioned is that all of this testing in live animals (not the cell lines) has been in mice and lots and lots of things go wrong when taking a drug developed in a mouse model to humans. It helps a lot that some of the normal cell lines shown to be unaffected were human.

    Currently there are relatively few antiviral therapeutics, and most which do exist are highly pathogen-specific or have other disadvantages. We have developed a new broad-spectrum antiviral approach, dubbed Double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) Activated Caspase Oligomerizer (DRACO) that selectively induces apoptosis in cells containing viral dsRNA, rapidly killing infected cells without harming uninfected cells. We have created DRACOs and shown that they are nontoxic in 11 mammalian cell types and effective against 15 different viruses, including dengue flavivirus, Amapari and Tacaribe arenaviruses, Guama bunyavirus, and H1N1 influenza. We have also demonstrated that DRACOs can rescue mice challenged with H1N1 influenza. DRACOs have the potential to be effective therapeutics or prophylactics for numerous clinical and priority viruses, due to the broad-spectrum sensitivity of the dsRNA detection domain, the potent activity of the apoptosis induction domain, and the novel direct linkage between the two which viruses have never encountered.

    As some posters suggested, there might be problems with herpes-style infections where the virus has infected nerve cells and gone dormant. The authors did not mention this in the paper as far as I could tell.

  • The rule-of-thumb is for every human cell there are 10 bacteria and 100 viruses living together in [ mostly ] symbiotic harmony. But bulkwise, due to miniscule size of these symbiots, bacteria only occupy a couple percent of weight and viruses a fraction of a percent. A tiny minority go berserk or are foreign invaders, thus cause some diseases.

    The question is how does medicine distinguish the between the useful viruses and bad viruses?
  • by PCM2 (4486) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @05:27PM (#37049416) Homepage

    I wonder, though, where a treatment like this leaves the human immune system.

    A vaccine spurs the immune system to generate antibodies, so that when we're actually infected by the virus, the antibodies are available to combat it. Our own immune systems do all the work.

    This new type of treatment, however, kills off the cells that have been infected by viruses, so the viruses aren't able to use the cell's materials to replicate. As the cells die, so do the viruses. From the sound of it, the treatment achieves this without any assistance from the immune system.

    So to put it bluntly, in a world where everybody pops a few anti-flu pills every time they get a little sniffle, what does the human immune system do all day? I can see two possible outcomes:

    1. 1. Humans mature with improperly-tuned immune systems that overreact to fairly minor variations, resulting in an increased instance of allergies and autoimmune diseases. (We seem to already be seeing some of this now, with the overuse of antibiotics and antimicrobial agents in soaps etc.)
    2. 2. If the side effects of #1 are sufficiently bad for humans, it seems logical that over time, nature will select for people who have weaker overall immune systems. Can that be good?
    • by robotkid (681905)

      I wonder, though, where a treatment like this leaves the human immune system.

      A vaccine spurs the immune system to generate antibodies, so that when we're actually infected by the virus, the antibodies are available to combat it. Our own immune systems do all the work.

      This new type of treatment, however, kills off the cells that have been infected by viruses, so the viruses aren't able to use the cell's materials to replicate. As the cells die, so do the viruses. From the sound of it, the treatment achieves this without any assistance from the immune system.

      >

      It's been noted by other posters, but this treatment is just amping up what the cell would normally do if it detected a viral infection, that is, kill itself to save the host. It turns out most successful viruses have evolved a way to shut off this response, and this treatment is like adding a redundant way to activate it. That's not to say it couldn't backfire, most of these self-destruct pathways need to be activated by multiple inputs to avoid accidental triggering (just like needing two special keys t

    • by GryMor (88799)

      It's possible, going by the mechanism being used, that it turns every viral infection you get while on it into the equivalent of a (possibly weak) deactivated virus vaccine. In fact, if it didn't, it probably wouldn't work at all, as it's unlikely it can kill all the infected cells before they have done any viral replication work.

  • by Fished (574624) <amphigory AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @05:42PM (#37049624)
    Call me when it's been published in NEJM, or JAMA or The Lancet. PLoS ONE is peer reviewed, kind of, but it's an "open access journal" and not exactly where you'd look for something of this magnitude. I'd imagine there are some serious problems if they couldn't get it published in one of the mainstream journals.
  • by jonwil (467024) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @08:42PM (#37051282)

    I have learned to ignore anything about new medical discoveries until the drug in question is available from my local doctor, hospital or chemist.

    Just because "drug x" does good things in rats or labs or even monkey/human trials doesn't mean its going to be available for normal people any time soon, if ever (think about all the instances where a promising drug came about and then never made it to market because of side effects)

Your own mileage may vary.

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