News / Health

Drug Compound Wipes Out Multiple Viral Infections

A nurse, wearing protective mask an gloves reads to a HIV/AIDS patient at the Phra Baht Nam Phu AIDS hospice near Lopburi, Thailand (File)
A nurse, wearing protective mask an gloves reads to a HIV/AIDS patient at the Phra Baht Nam Phu AIDS hospice near Lopburi, Thailand (File)
Jessica Berman

Imagine taking a single pill that could cure almost any viral infection.  Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States say they have developed a drug that, so far, has killed every virus it’s been tested on in the laboratory.  

The drug - known by the acronym DRACO - works by chemically targeting viral-infected cells and prompting them to self-destruct, eliminating the disease in the process.

DRACO takes advantage of the fact that when viruses infect animal cells, they insert pieces of their genetic core - complex strands of nucleic acids called RNA that regulate cell function by switching genes on or off.  This viral RNA wraps itself around the single-strand RNA in the animal cell to form a unique molecule called double-stranded RNA.

By recognizing these double-stranded RNA molecules, DRACO can hone in on virus-infected cells, explains Todd Rider, a senior scientist at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory where the compound was developed.

Rider says that when DRACO detects a cell with double-stranded RNA, it activates a so-called cellular "suicide switch," in much the same way that human cells are programmed to self-destruct if they begin to grow out of control.

“If a cell thinks it’s becoming a cancer cell, it will try to kill itself for the greater good," said Rider. "So in this case, the DRACO treatment is activating the suicide switch in the presence of any double-stranded RNA.  So, it will kill any virus-infected cell.”

Rider says DRACO has been successfully tested in petri dishes against 15 viruses that cause everything from the sniffles to life-threatening diseases.

“So far we’ve cured the common cold, four different strains of the rhinovirus," he said. "We’ve cured H1N1 influenza, two different strains.  We’ve cured a stomach virus; we’ve cured the polio virus, various DNA adenoviruses, dengue hemorrhagic fever and several examples of arenavirus and bunyavirus.”   

The last two viral infections can cause inflammation of the brain.

Rider says there are many more viruses he wants to test DRACO on, including the virus that causes AIDS.  A broad spectrum antiviral drug that works against HIV could be especially useful since some people can develop resistance to anti-retroviral drugs.  

Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, agrees that DRACO could potentially work against the human immunodeficiency virus.  But Fauci says a variety of effective drugs are already available to treat HIV.

“So, there isn’t a compelling need to have a drug like this for HIV," said Fauci. "It’s more relevant for those viruses for which we don’t have any good drugs, and there are plenty of those around.”

Fauci says there is a trend in microbial research now to develop catch-all drugs like a universal flu vaccine that would protect against all strains of influenza, and DRACO, with its potential to target and eliminate all types of viral infections.

“The more we learn about the fundamental basics of viral biology and bacterial biology and other microbial biologies, the more opportunities we have to develop interventions such as this particular apparently broad-spectrum antiviral," he said.

MIT’s Todd Rider predicts it could be another decade before DRACO is ready for general use.

An article describing DRACO’s antiviral properties is published in the journal PLoS One.  

You May Like

Hezbollah Chief Says Does Not Want War But Ready for One

VOA's Jerusalem correspondent reports that with an Israeli election looming and Hezbollah's involvement in Syria, neither side appears interested in a wider conflict More

Multimedia VOA SPECIAL REPORT: Despite Danger, Best US Minds Battle Deadly Virus

Scientists at America's premier biological research center race in military confinement to find effective drugs, speedier tests and a safe vaccine amid the deadliest outbreak of Ebola in history More

Kurdish Poet Battles to Defend Language, Culture

Kawa Nemir's work is an example of what he sees as an irreversible cultural and political assertiveness among Kurds in Turkey More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unresti
X
Heather Murdock
January 30, 2015 8:00 PM
Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Mobile Infrared Scanners May Help Homeowners Save Energy

Mobile photo scanners have been successfully employed for navigational purposes, such as Google Maps. Now, a group of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says the same technology could help homeowners better insulate their houses and save some money. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid