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Chemist Paul Freimuth
"This knowledge could eventually contribute to the generation of a vaccine"
 real 28k

Friday, 19 November, 1999, 22:56 GMT
Cold 'cure' comes one step closer
Progress is slow towards a common cold cure

US scientists believe they have found a way of blocking one of the principal viruses that causes cold symptoms in adults.

Their research has successfully stopped viruses from binding with human cells in a test tube.

If the virus cannot bind with a cell, it cannot enter the cell and reproduce, which should stop or at least slow its progress.

However, the successful production of a cold "vaccine" is still a long way off - as conditions in a test tube differ greatly from those in the average human nose.

The report comes from the US Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory, and is published in the journal Science.

Scientists managed to tailor the bacterium E.coli, which can cause food poisoning in some forms, but also helps to break down food in the gut, so that it mimicked the cell protein which joins with the virus.

The theory is that a vaccine created from millions of these proteins would make viruses bind to these rather than the cells.

'Dead in the water'

Biologist Paul Freimuth, who worked on the project, said: "Viruses have to bind to cells in order to infect them.

"If you could interrupt that binding, the virus would be dead in the water."

The virus at the centre of this work was the adenovirus, which accounts for less than 50% of human cold infections.

The vaccine would work in the same way as the antibodies naturally produced by the body's immune system, but work more quickly.

Gene therapy

The team are hoping that a precise knowledge of the binding mechanism will help other scientists use deactivated cold viruses to carry gene therapy into diseased or damaged cells.

Many teams are working on therapies for cancer and lung diseases such as cystic fibrosis which use adenoviruses as the method of carrying their altered genes.

The limitations of "vaccines" for cold viruses are the methods of getting them to the cells concerned in the nose and throat.

The Common Cold Centre, based at the University of Wales in Cardiff, has conducted similar research on rhinoviruses, which cause between 30 and 40% of colds.

They found that while the technique worked well in a test tube, it was far less effective in a live human, as the medication tended not to settle in the nose for long enough to mop up all the virus.

Dangerous for the young

Although the common cold is only a minor irritation to most adults who contract it, it can have more serious consequences for babies.

Dr Peter Mackie, the principal clinical virologist at Yorkhill NHS Trust in Glasgow, is currently witnessing a mini-epidemic of respiratory syncytial virus infections which cause extreme breathing difficulties to younger babies.

"An effective treatment for these viruses would be extremely useful," he said.

"We have had more than 50 cases of respiratory syncytial virus infections in infants quite recently."


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