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article imageMIT scientists develop novel drug to fight viral infections

By Michael Krebs     Sep 5, 2011 in Science
Scientists operating at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed an antiviral drug that promises to end infections from virtually all known viruses, from the common cold to exotic hemorrhagic fevers.
Viruses have forever represented one of the greatest threats to mankind, from the fast-presenting and gory jungle hemorrhagic fevers found in Ebola and Marburg to the many frustratingly agile and dangerous influenza strains emerging constantly from avian and swine sources to the slow-presenting and quite successful immune-suppressor HIV. There are also many known direct connections between common viral infections, such as HPV, and the onset of a broad range of devastating cancers.
As is noted in this 2007 ScienceDaily story, there are disturbingly strong links between influenza infections among pregnant women and presentations of autism and schizophrenia among their offspring.
In a drug they have termed DRACO, researchers working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology appear to have discovered the most meaningful answer to the worldwide challenge posed by viral infections.
According to an August 2011 release posted on the MIT site, Dr. Todd Rider, senior staff scientist in MIT Lincoln Laboratory's Chemical, Biological, and Nanoscale Technologies Group, working with a team of researchers, invented DRACO (for Double-stranded RNA [dsRNA] Activated Caspase Oligomerizer).
During the process of viral infection, the invading species must institute replication in order to reproduce. In order to institute replication, the virus produces long strands of double-stranded RNA, which is the cornerstone marker of a viral infection. DRACO functions through the core observation of the human body's central defense against viral infection: the attachment of proteins to the double-stranded RNA produced by viruses.
However, DRACO goes further, binding another protein that induces cell suicide to the double-stranded RNA. The end result is that all cells marked with the double-stranded RNA produced by the invading virus promptly commit suicide while the rest of the uninfected cells remain unharmed.
In laboratory tests on mice and on human cell cultures, 15 different viruses were found to be completely vulnerable to DRACO, "including cold viruses (rhinoviruses), H1N1 influenza strains, adenoviruses, a stomach virus (reovirus), a polio virus, dengue fever virus, and several members of hemorrhagic fever arenavirus and bunyavirus families," the MIT release stated.
The findings, published in the journal PLoS ONE, answer the inadequacies that currently exist in vaccines and antiviral treatments, particularly in regard to the significant threats posed by emerging strains and the possibility for human-engineered bioterrorism.
"Currently there are relatively few antiviral therapeutics, and most which do exist are highly pathogen-specific or have other disadvantages," the MIT team wrote in the PLoS ONE abstract. "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."
More about Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Virus, Influenza, Viruses, Antiviral
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