MIT team designs a promising new drug for viral infections

A group of MIT researchers say they've been able to develop a drug that can hunt down and terminate cells infected with a virus, offering a potential new treatment for a host of viral infections. The treatment--which has been tested in human and animal cells as well as mice--operates on its ability to target RNA that is only found in cells affected by a virus.

"In theory, it should work against all viruses," says Todd Rider, a senior staff scientist in Lincoln Laboratory's Chemical, Biological, and Nanoscale Technologies Group. Their tests worked on rhinoviruses that cause the common cold as well as H1N1 and polio. And the technology could make it effective against lethal new viruses that pop up unexpectedly, similar to the SARS outbreak.

The discovery by Rider and his team revolves around the double-stranded RNA spawned by viruses as they churn out new copies to overwhelm the host. The body in turn relies on proteins to stop the replication. The investigators combined one protein that binds to the RNA with another that triggers cell death, or apoptosis. And a "delivery tag" allows the treatment to neglect healthy cells.

"Viruses are pretty good at developing resistance to things we try against them, but in this case, it's hard to think of a simple pathway to drug resistance," says Karla Kirkegaard, professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford University. The MIT team published their study in the journal PLoS One.

- here's the press release from MIT