Scientists are close to achieving something that Dr Bones McCoy could not do on Star Trek – finding a cure for the common cold.
The boffins who work at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge have been able to show for the first time that the body’s immune defences can destroy the common cold virus after it has actually invaded a cell, a feat that was believed until now to be impossible. Until now it has been impossible.
But it means that there could be a new class of antiviral drugs that work by enhancing the natural virus-killing machinery of the cell.
They think they will have something to stop the snuffles in about two to five years.
Many other viruses could also be targeted by the new approach including the norovirus, which causes winter vomiting, and rotavirus, which results in the trots and kills thousands of kids in developing countries.
Viruses are still public enemy number one, killing double the number of people who die of cancer. This is because they get inside cells where they can hide away from the body’s immune defences and antibiotics.
The boffins have found that anti-viral antibodies can in fact enter the cell with the invading virus where they are able to trigger the rapid destruction of the foreign invader.
Leo James, who led the research team, said that until now research suggested that once a virus got into cell it was dead because the bodies defences could not kill it off.
But studies at the Medical Research Council’s laboratory have found that the antibodies produced by the immune system, which recognise and attack invading viruses, actually ride piggyback into the inside of a cell with the invading virus.
Once inside the cell, a naturally occurring protein in the cell called TRIM21 activates a powerful virus-crushing machinery that can eliminate it within two hours.
This means that the virus does not get the chance to hijack the cell to start making its own viral proteins.
According to the journal, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which we get for the giant crossword, the protein TRIM21 could be used in a nasal spray to combat the many types of viruses that cause the common cold.