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'Superdrug' Against Range of Viruses Shows Promise in Animal Trials
Date:8/11/2011

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Aug. 11 (HealthDay News) -- A potentially groundbreaking drug appears effective against a wide range of viral infections, including the common cold, flu, stomach viruses, polio and dengue fever -- at least in mice.

The new drug is made from living cell's own defense systems and works by targeting a type of genetic material found only in those cells infected by viruses, MIT researchers explained.

"Currently there are very few antiviral treatments, and most that do exist are highly specific for individual viruses or have undesirable side effects," noted lead researcher Todd Rider, a senior staff scientist at Lincoln Laboratory's Chemical, Biological, and Nanoscale Technologies Group, which is part of MIT.

The new drug is called DRACO (from the more unwieldy "double-stranded RNA activated caspase oligomerizers"). According to Rider, it "has the potential to safely treat or prevent a broad spectrum of viral infections."

Still, a long road awaits before humans might benefit, if ever. Clinical trials remain years away and any drug available to patients might not materialize for a decade, Rider said.

The report was published recently in the online journal PLoS One.

As the researchers explain, DRACO targets a kind of genetic material known as RNA.

When any virus infects a cell it starts making more copies of itself. During this process, viruses produce strings of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA). These strings are not normally found in healthy human or animal cells, the researchers noted.

As part of their natural defense against infection, cells also make proteins that attach to dsRNA -- helping to prevent the virus from replicating. Many viruses escape harm by blocking this cellular defense strategy, however.

DRACO includes a so-called "delivery tag," that allows it to cross cellular membranes and enter any human or animal cell that
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