A team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory has created a treatment for viral infections that could effectively treat all viruses and prevent a doomsday pandemic scenario a la Contagion.
The drug form, known as DRACO (Double-stranded RNA Activated Caspase Oligomerizers), when introduced in the human body identifies cells that have a protein only produced in animal bodies when a virus is replicating and spreading. While the virus would normally appropriate cells in order to replicate itself, the DRACOs attach to those proteins and instruct the cells to commit “suicide,” preventing the spread of the virus. The drug leaves healthy cells alone and appears to be nontoxic to animals.
The team, headed by senior staff scientist Todd Rider, released their study last summer, showing that the method could successfully cure subjects of numerous viral infections, including the rhinovirus (the common cold), H1N1 influenza, a stomach virus, polio, dengue fever, and the ebola virus. While the study only looked at 15 viral infections, Rider and his team believe the treatment will work on just about any viral infection and could be used to mitigate wide-scale outbreaks like the SARS pandemic that spread throughout the world in 2003.
While broad-spectrum antibiotics that treat bacterial infections have been around for many decades, viral treatments are usually virus-specific. Trials continue to see how other viruses will respond to treatment with the new antiviral, but one can’t help wonder how this might change the fight against some of humanities worst-feared viruses — perhaps it could even be used in the war against HIV.