Fighting Viruses at the Cellular Level
In these past few decades, there has been a great deal of fear over such infectious and deadly diseases, as the Swine Flu, the HIV and the Ebola Virus. New scientific discoveries are being made that can give some real hope in the fight against these fearsome killers. According to National Geographic Magazine, in an article titled “Hit Them Where They Live” Dr Michael Kurilla, of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious diseases stated the following: “Over the next twenty or thirty years there will be a paradigm shift in the way we approach infectious diseases.”
Viruses have been difficult to conquer because they rapidly mutate and spread once they enter their host. This happens because viruses work in conjunction with the body’s own cells. The virus is a parasite that invades the cells; causing them to mutate and multiply by using the cells own mechanism. This makes the virus a powerful foe to conquer. Unlike bacteria that can be effectively controlled by drugs that attack the bacteria itself, viruses have to be approached at a different level, because once the virus has mutated and spread, it has become too strong to be vanquished by an antiviral drug.
Scientists are trying to outsmart viruses by developing a new approach. Instead of attacking viruses directly after they have had a chance to mutate and multiply, this approach works by targeting the cells the viruses infect. Scientists are now trying to develop a new drug that works by disabling the cells that help the virus reproduce. This way the virus could be stopped with little risk of resistance.
It is the hope of researchers to come up with a way to identify the host function that HIV, flu, and Ebola all require, and thus come up with a drug that can vanquish all three of them, making it the first broad spectrum antiviral.
The key to fighting viruses at a cellular level is to find the right target-a gene and the protein it encodes, that the human cell does not need, but it is needed for the virus to mutate and spread. Human DNA contains 20,000 genes, but at any given time some of these genes are dormant. With the human genome fully decoded, what scientist do is to systematically search for targets and thus disable the individual genes in many cells to see what happens.
Zirus, a company in Buford, Georgia uses a three step process to target these dormant genes and it is done in the following way:
- Find the unneeded genes: A harmless retrovirus is used to knock out a different gene in each human cell. If the cell survives that means that the targeted gene wasn’t producing an essential protein.
- Bring on the Enemy: Remaining cells lacking a gene they don’t need are infected with a virus, such as the flu virus, which will fails to kill some.
- Identify the survivors: If a cell survives the virus, which suggest that the virus could not reproduce without the protein encoded by the missing gene. This gives researchers a chance to develop a new antiviral drug that targets cell proteins, without harming human cells.
The first such drug developed by Pfizer Maraviroc is already being used on HIV patients to treat HIV infections. Other drugs are being developed using this research, in hopes of finding a way to destroy virus once and for all. If this research is successful, patients that had no hope may now have a cure. Devastating diseases, such as AIDS, may be a thing of the past. The cure for these diseases is yet to be discovered, but with cutting edge research such as this, we are coming closer and closer to an answer.