(SAN FRANCISCO) — Scientists in California believe they may be on the brink of a medical breakthrough for the common cold.
What did they find?
Research teams at Stanford University and the University of California-San Francisco found that temporarily disabling a single, noncritical protein in cells may halt the replication of viruses that cause half of all common colds, polio and other diseases.
The teams made their discovery in both human cell cultures and in mice.
The same approach of targeting proteins in cells also worked to stop viruses associated with asthma, encephalitis and polio, according to a Stanford Medicine news release.
How does it work?
ABC News’ chief medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton said the enterovirus, which causes the common cold, can evade targeting which makes it impervious to being disabled.
“It’s a very sneaky virus,” she said. “This time, these researchers out on the west coast, they actually looked at the target, not the virus. So they sequenced every single gene, basically, and then they systematically went about disabling single genes, one gene at a time.”
Stanford University associate professor and senior author of the findings Jan Carette, Ph.D., said, “Traditional anti-viral drugs target the virus itself. But the virus is very smart and it can mutate its way around it. What we do is make the host inhospitable for these viruses. So it’s much more difficult for these viruses to mutate around.”
Think of it like a lock and key, Ashton said.
“If the lock is actually the cell that gets infected, and the key is the virus, instead of disabling this, they disabled the protein on the cell that is found to be nonessential so that virus cannot infect those cells,” Ashton explained.
What does this mean?
While this testing is not yet a cure, scientists would have to develop a drug that blocks that protein in cells. At that point, any drug would need to be tested further.
In the meantime, Dr. Ashton suggested washing hands regularly and sneezing into your arm.
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