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New Technology Found to Treat Broad Range of Viruses

Todd Ryder (MIT)

Todd Ryder (MIT)

Scientists at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Massachusetts have designed a class of therapies to identify cells that have been infected by any type of virus — from the common cold to Ebola — then kill those cells to terminate the infection. Their findings appear in the journal PLoS One.

The technology targets a type of ribonucleic acid (RNA) produced only in cells that have been infected by viruses. In the PLoS One paper, the team led by senior staff scientist Todd Ryder (pictured right) tested its therapies against 15 viruses, and found it 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.

When viruses infect a cell, they take over the cell’s functions to create more copies of the virus. During this process, the viruses create long strings of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA), which is not found in human or other animal cells.

To defend against viral infection, human cells have proteins that latch onto dsRNA, setting off a chain of reactions that prevents the virus from replicating itself. Many viruses, however, find ways to block one of the steps further down the chain, thus resisting their own demise.

The MIT technology called DRACO — for Double-stranded RNA Activated Caspase Oligomerizer — combines a dsRNA-binding protein with another protein that induces cells to undergo apoptosis, a form of programmed cell suicide. As a result, when a DRACO binds to a dsRNA, it signals the other side of the DRACO to initiate cell suicide.

DRACOs are made from naturally occurring proteins, that allows them to cross cell membranes and enter any human or animal cell. However, if no dsRNA is present, the DRACO leaves the cell unharmed.

As reported in the PLoS One paper, DRACO was found to be nontoxic in lab tests on 11 different cell types representing various human and animal species and organ types (e.g., heart, lung, liver, kidney). Other tests on mice showed that DRACO not only is nontoxic, but also can cure mice infected with a lethal dose of H1N1 influenza.

The team is now testing additional viruses in mice. Rider says he hopes to license the technology for trials in larger animals and for eventual human clinical trials.

Read more: Contracts Awarded for New Flu Vaccine Technologies

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