Scripps researchers piece together adenovirus structure

Scientists have completed a 3-D atomic-scale map of a virus that causes the common cold--the largest virus ever mapped. The map could help scientists re-engineer the virus for gene therapy and create possible treatments for cancer and other ailments, as Popular Science notes.

Adenovirus is a major class of disease-causing agents; however, no there are no medications currently available against them. Recently, scientists have sought to exploit the adenovirus' stability and ability to infect many different types of cells to engineer cures for other diseases. The hope is that modified adenovirus could play a role in gene therapy, used as a vector for delivering therapeutic genes to the interior of cells.

"Adenovirus was used early on in pioneering gene therapy trials for the treatment of cystic fibrosis," explains Scripps Research Professor Glen Nemerow in an article. "Those trials failed because scientists didn't understand the biology and virus-host cell interactions to be able to use the virus properly." The adenovirus is still being used in roughly 25 percent of human gene therapy trials as a potential therapy against cancer and cardiovascular disease, according to Nemerow. A better understanding of the virus could help advance those efforts.

"We learned a number of important things about the virus from the structure, including how its key contacts are involved in its assembly," says Nemerow. "That's very important if you want to reengineer the virus for gene therapy."

The study was published Aug. 27 in the journal Science.

- see the Scripps Research Institute report
- get the study abstract
- read more from Popular Science

ALSO: New research on viruses may translate into new therapies to beat cancer, scientists say. Molecular biologists at the Salk Institute have uncovered a previously unknown mechanism that allows adenoviruses--culprits behind the common cold as well as other illnesses--to beat the body's immune system. Since adenoviruses and tumor growths both overcome our natural cellular defenses in a similar way, understanding one disease process can give us good clues for ways to fight the other, scientists hope. News