Cure for Common Cold May Be Close
Scientists say they've made a groundbreaking discovery that could lead to a cure for an ailment affecting us all: the common cold.
Researchers in the U.K. say they've proven for the first time that the body's own immune system is capable of killing the cold virus after it has already penetrated a human cell, according to a new study cited by the Independent.
If their claims hold up, it could pave the way for the invention of a new class of anti-viral drugs that would bolster the cells' natural ability to destroy viruses, the paper said. Those drugs could be ready for clinical trials within two to five years.
"Obviously this is of great interest to anyone who suffers from the common cold, which is pretty much everyone," Dr. Cliff Bassett, the medical director of Allergy & Asthma Care of New York, told AOL Health. "If this can be done safely and cost-effectively, they've got a home run. But it remains to be seen."
Many respiratory infections lead to sinus infections and other bacterial ailments. And those already suffering from allergies and asthma would benefit from a common cold cure since their symptoms are often triggered by colds and other respiratory illnesses, Bassett said.
The findings could also aid in the fight against other viral illnesses including norovirus and rotavirus, which can cause severe gastrointestinal symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea, according to the scientists.
Previous theories have suggested that viruses are so deadly, claiming twice as many lives as cancer, because they can invade the body's cells and "hide" from its natural immune defenses, then wreak havoc by accosting the cells and infecting them.
"In any immunology textbook you will read that once a virus makes it into a cell, that is game over because the cell is now infected. At that point there is nothing the immune response can do other than kill that cell," lead researcher Leo James, of Cambridge's Laboratory of Molecular Biology, told the Independent.
But the British researchers say that explanation has shortcomings. Experiments at the U.K.'s Medical Research Council revealed that the immune system's antibodies actually recognize the intruding viruses, ride piggyback with them into the cells and then unleash an attack on them.
The antibodies are detected by a protein in the cell called TRIM21, which produces a potent virus-busting mechanism that is capable of eradicating the virus within two hours, according to James -- well before it takes over and infects the cell.
"This is the last opportunity a cell gets because after that it gets infected and there is nothing else the body can do but kill the cell," he told the paper. "The antibody is attached to the virus and when the virus gets sucked inside the cell, the antibody stays attached, there is nothing in that process to make the antibody to fall off."
Scientists had believed that immune antibodies only worked when they were completely outside the cells, while they were in the bloodstream or other bodily fluids.
"The beauty of it is that for every infection event, for every time a virus enters a cell, it is also an opportunity for the antibody in the cells to take the virus out," said James. "That is the key concept that is different from how we think about immunity. ... It's certainly a very fast process. We've shown that once it enters the cell it gets degraded within an hour or two hours."
The researchers used human cell cultures. The next step is to perform a study on animals with the hopes of reproducing the findings so that a clinical trial with people will be approved.
"It's promising, but we can't speculate without clinical trials," Bassett said. "I think it's premature to have any joy or jump up and down about a drug to get rid of common colds."