• The microscope images above show that DRACO successfully treats viral infections. In this set of four photos, dengue hemorrhagic fever virus kills untreated monkey cells (lower left), whereas DRACO has no toxicity in uninfected cells (upper right) and cures an infected cell population (lower right).

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  • Todd Rider invented the PANACEA and DRACO antiviral therapeutics, and previously invented the CANARY (Cellular Analysis and Notification of Antigen Risks and Yields) sensor for rapid pathogen detection and identification.

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New drug could cure nearly any viral infection

Researchers at MIT’s Lincoln Lab have developed technology that may someday cure the common cold, influenza and other ailments.


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Most bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics such as penicillin, discovered decades ago. However, such drugs are useless against viral infections, including influenza, the common cold, and deadly hemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola.

Now, in a development that could transform how viral infections are treated, a team of researchers at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory has designed a drug that can identify cells that have been infected by any type of virus, then kill those cells to terminate the infection.


The microscope images above show that DRACO successfully treats viral infections. In the left set of four photos, rhinovirus (the common cold virus) kills untreated human cells (lower left), whereas DRACO has no toxicity in uninfected cells (upper right) and cures an infected cell population (lower right). Similarly, in the right set of four photos, dengue hemorrhagic fever virus kills untreated monkey cells (lower left), whereas DRACO has no toxicity in uninfected cells (upper right) and cures an infected cell population (lower right). | Enlarge image

In a paper published July 27 in the journal PLoS One, the researchers tested their drug against 15 viruses, and found it was effective against all of them — including rhinoviruses that cause the common cold, H1N1 influenza, a stomach virus, a polio virus, dengue fever and several other types of hemorrhagic fever.

The drug works by targeting a type of RNA produced only in cells that have been infected by viruses. “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 who invented the new technology.

Because the technology is so broad-spectrum, it could potentially also be used to combat outbreaks of new viruses, such as the 2003 SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak, Rider says.

Other members of the research team are Lincoln Lab staff members Scott Wick, Christina Zook, Tara Boettcher, Jennifer Pancoast and Benjamin Zusman.

Few antivirals available

Rider had the idea to try developing a broad-spectrum antiviral therapy about 11 years ago, after inventing CANARY (Cellular Analysis and Notification of Antigen Risks and Yields), a biosensor that can rapidly identify pathogens. “If you detect a pathogenic bacterium in the environment, there is probably an antibiotic that could be used to treat someone exposed to that, but I realized there are very few treatments out there for viruses,” he says.

There are a handful of drugs that combat specific viruses, such as the protease inhibitors used to control HIV infection, but these are relatively few in number and susceptible to viral resistance. 

Rider drew inspiration for his therapeutic agents, dubbed DRACOs (Double-stranded RNA Activated Caspase Oligomerizers), from living cells’ own defense systems.

When viruses infect a cell, they take over its cellular machinery for their own purpose — that is, creating more copies of the virus. During this process, the viruses create long strings of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA), which is not found in human or other animal cells.

As part of their natural defenses against viral infection, human cells have proteins that latch onto dsRNA, setting off a cascade of reactions that prevents the virus from replicating itself. However, many viruses can outsmart that system by blocking one of the steps further down the cascade.

Rider had the idea to combine a dsRNA-binding protein with another protein that induces cells to undergo apoptosis (programmed cell suicide) — launched, for example, when a cell determines it is en route to becoming cancerous. Therefore, when one end of the DRACO binds to dsRNA, it signals the other end of the DRACO to initiate cell suicide.

Combining those two elements is a “great idea” and a very novel approach, says Karla Kirkegaard, professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford University. “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,” she says.

Each DRACO also includes a “delivery tag,” taken from naturally occurring proteins, that allows it to cross cell membranes and enter any human or animal cell. However, if no dsRNA is present, DRACO leaves the cell unharmed.

Most of the tests reported in this study were done in human and animal cells cultured in the lab, but the researchers also tested DRACO in mice infected with the H1N1 influenza virus. When mice were treated with DRACO, they were completely cured of the infection. The tests also showed that DRACO itself is not toxic to mice.

The researchers are now testing DRACO against more viruses in mice and beginning to get promising results. Rider says he hopes to license the technology for trials in larger animals and for eventual human clinical trials.

This work is funded by a grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the New England Regional Center of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases, with previous funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Defense Threat Reduction Agency, and Director of Defense Research & Engineering (now the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering).


Topics: Biology, Lincoln Laboratory, Antiviral drugs, Apoptosis (cell suicide), Viruses

Comments

Excellent post. The new drug from MIT Researches will be a breakthrough in curing ailments like common cold, influenza and others. Congratulations MIT Researchers for this fine research in Medicine. Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India E-mail: anumakonda.jagadeesh@gmail.com
I wonder what bottle of wine was used after this discovery. These are the people who I wish to have autographs from!
Would this drug have any effect on pregnancy? Are any double stranded RNA particles produced during the early stages of pregnancy with its immune system suppression ? If there is no adverse effect on pregnancy then this could be as big a discovery as the discovery of penicillin (or even bigger). Well done.
Dear MIT scientists: Please work on an RA cure. You have found a cure for the common cold. Please work on finding a cure for RA. I am getting feeble and I am not that old. Current meds are not that great, even biologics. They stop joint deformities somewhat but not the fatigue and dull aches. IL-6 inhibitors are new but go around the same circle as all the other meds. My doctor says the immune system is very complex but there is something key being missed. It may be simple. Perhaps you can find it...You folks are very smart. L
Any testing on the HPV virus? What are those results?
Apparently works great in tissue culture. But success as an Rx is less certain, since the presumably costly drug non-selectively enters every cell in the body: "Each DRACO also includes a “delivery tag,” taken from naturally occurring proteins, that allows it to cross cell membranes and enter ANY human or animal cell. However, if no dsRNA is present, DRACO leaves the cell unharmed." It may be far too costly for human use, even if applied locally or topically. But let's await studies in larger animals and humans before calling it "a cure (for) nearly any viral infection." H.R. Biotech consultant
What effects, if any, would this have on someone who has undergone gene therapy of the kind based on engineered viruses? And what if someone has lots of harmless viruses on their body, would this kill otherwise healthy cells potentially threatening the person's life?
What a great idea! To target cells containing dsRNA and then combining a dsRNA-binding protein with another protein that induces cells to undergo apoptosis. Kudos to the MIT team. You guys deserve a Nobel prize! Just wondering, if the same basic idea could not be employed in case of cancer? Is there a way to identify cancer cells and employ the similar mechanism to induce apoptosis?
Bravo! This breakthrough, once again, makes me proud to be a graduate of MIT (BS, Bioelectrical Engineering), MS (EE&CS), and of the HST Program. Now, can I be of help in commercializing this breakthrough? I have extensive experience with start-ups, venture funding, alliances, business development, M&A, etc. Dr. Peter Spitzer
Great news -- but how will how our mitochondrial overlords react to this?
I didn't notice anything in the article about possible effectiveness on HIV. Is there any indication in this regard?
This could bring hope to millions of people suffering from non-life-threatening, but otherwise stigmatic and often painful herpes virus. I really hope that this drug will get commercialized if all trials go well and that the price won't be out of the reach of regular people.
Go long commodities, short health care stocks, if this works in human. More people living longer will cause a population boom. Nobel Prize for sure.
Great Research. Question....what would happen to a person/mouse if their disease process is so advanced that many or most of their body is infected a virus? Would Draco kill many or most of the human/mouse cells? Would that kill the person/mouse. The drug may then be most useful earlier in a disease process? Just a question. I think this is one of the most interesting studies/topics in recent years. Kudos to MIT. Truly the best minds in the country.
I wonder how long till this is suppressed by our governments.
This is promising but does not vitamin D at repeltion levels alreasy accomplish this? Much, much better is the fact vitamin D in the healthy, evolutionary correct range of 50-80 ng/ml, 25 OH, PREVENTS the common cold, Type A influenza infection, for starters. Anyone who takes his/her vitamin D health seriously knows this. I am typical-no flu, colds or even one sick day in 6 years. The stunning news that even minute amounts of vitamin D included int standard Hep C interferon et al treatement protocol DOUBLES cure rate (SVR) has got to count for something?
wow!!! just wow!!! Very very impressive!! Congratulations Guys. I have a small question: they are many groups of viruses (Baltimor classificatio's) and each one have his way to reproduce so is all these groups create dsRNA during her reproduction?
Cancer is a virus, isn't it? Will this wonder drug be useful in combatting it?
This work is funded by a grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the New England Regional Center of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases, with previous funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Defense Threat Reduction Agency, and Director of Defense Research & Engineering (now the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering). I wonder, will the drug company justify the extreme cost of the drug on research and development even though ,basically, tax payers paid for the R & D.
I'd be curious to know what's on board for them next, a cure for all forms of cancer? As long as this doesn't herald the onset of a real-life "I Am Legend," I'll be quite happy.
Should human testing prove positive, this could be the greatest medical advance in history, worthy of a Nobel Prize and the eternal gratitude of all mankind. This is where our tax dollars should be applied, rather than in wars aimed at securing resources for corporate profits. Our hopes, prayers, and thanks go with you in your continued efforts to perfect this revolutionary treatment.
As a member of the human race, I thank you for your hard work! Amazing. Any novel ideas on treating autoimmunity?
This is wonderful news. I'm wondering though, for most viral infections, one doesn't know they're infected until at least a couple days post infection once symptoms present. By that time, viral titers are exponentially growing. It would potentially require a lot of this drug to kill all the infected cells, with some nasty side effects? Let's hope the mouse data corresponds to humans. Encouraging news nevertheless.
I hope the MIT think tank types give this some consideration. What would be the LOOOONG term impact on the human race using this. Lets pretend this is used universally for 10,000 generations. THEN suddenly for some reason the drug is unavailable. What will the result of 10,000 generations of unchallanged immune systems be? Before DRACO, if an immune system is too deficient, it will be taken out of the gene pool by means of death of the individual before he/she has a chance to procreate. After DRACO, the individual with immune system that can't handle reality due do genetic flaw ... gets to procreate, and that flaw has a chance to be passed down and I admit to only a little more than just a layman's understanding of these things, but just wanted to throw that out there.
It's an interesting concept, but I'm always wary of an intervention that targets the host rather than the pathogen. What happens if a large cluster of adjoining cells are infected and the "treatment" knocks them all out? Is the patient left with gaping holes in tissue? A non-functioning organ? There is a lot to be said for very targeted interventions and a lot to be cautious of with broad, or in this instance possibly universal, application. It is useful to remember that broad spectrum antibiotics have led to broad scale resistance to those drugs, while more targeted drugs have not generated nearly the same degree of resistance.
Can this drug affect retroviruses(hiv) as well?
MIT Researchers, you truly are geniuses. It is just simply unbelievable that: one second, you're terribly sick, then you take the DRACO drug(that you made), you're terribly FANTASTIC! Keep up the great work you're doing. Thank you...
How long does DRACO stay in the system? Are you worried about disrupting gerontology? Eventually we all die...
When will this be available for use or clinical trials for Hepatitis C. This is a clear and widespread need, the current treatments are horrific and unreliable in outcome and this is a deadly virus that invades and replicates at the RNA level. How long until this is breakthrough is used in real life treatment options?
Dr. Spitzer, please contact me directly (check MIT for e-mail address listed in this on line directory). I am interested in collaborating with you. Phx. houses T-Gen, Mayo Clinic and Body Positive, all leaders in research and clinical trials for HIV and HCV. Have local contacts, and networks in CA. J. Richi
Find a good naturopath or herbalist! Conventional medicine or science will not likely help in the near future because they treat symptoms and never look for root causes. And there ARE ROOT CAUSES. I can say this because I was stricken with arthritis in my 30s and at age 61 I have not a trace. Its all in knowing how to remove the root cause.
Exciting discovery, but there is too much money to be made with anti-viral drugs and vaccines... this will probably never be released for public use.
Wil Draco be used to treat hep-c
If DRACO causes apoptosis in all cells displaying signs of viral infection (and humans host many viruses)how will the volumes of dead cells be filtered out? Will that mass exodus cause some kind of toxicity or be too much of a demand on the liver?
What a revelation! I'm very excited about the prospect of never having a cold again! I think you should change the name though.. Draco just sounds evil. Someone else asked this question but there was no reply so I'll ask it again - will this drug have any effect on viruses that are useful to the body? I'm thinking of broad spectrum antibiotics that kill off good bacteria. Well done. How exciting!
Penicillin was officially discovered in 1928, not "decades ago." Try 83 years ago. It was used during the Middle Ages, but that's another post. -Da-da
TEST WITH ENZYMES FIBRONILITICAS, EXISTS a PRODUCT THAT Llama WOBENZYM, INDICATED FOR the chronic inflammatory PROCESSES like: reumatoide arthritis, chronic osteoartrosis, inflammatory processes you will articulate and of soft weaves, especially in those patients in whom the use of another type of antiinflammatories (AINE's) is not possible.
Schizophrenia might be caused by endogenous HREV retrovirus.
Is no one else slightly suspicious of this? It's published in PLoS why wasn't it (or was it rejected) in Nature, Science or PNAS? It's great if it is true but I'd like to see the research reviewed in a more rigorous setting or replicated by others before making such bold statements.
''DRACO has no toxicity in uninfected cells''. For everyones sake, making bold statements about a miracle cure that can kill ''virtually'' any virus without thinking, What if something went wrong with the recognition mechanism of this drug is foolish.
What a beautiful idea! Thanks for this article, I've been HIV for 12yrs and it's welcome, promising news.
Where do I send donations for this research?
I have a nasty head cold and too much to do to be sick. Sign me up for the next shot and I guarantee I'll feel better in a couple of days. Seriously...nice work. Important work. Thanks for your dedication, tenacity and curiosity.
I'm in my 50s and have experienced extreme fatigue and aching joints, which I believe was arthritis. I got a lot of relief with intermittent fasting. Try only eating during a 4-hour window each day, and cut back on carbs.
How long did it take the mice to be completely cured of H1N1? Most people get completely cured of H1N1 and many other viruses in 10 to 14 days without taking anything.
Penicillin meet DRACO. Three cheers for Todd Rider and his team at Lincoln Laboratory. This is true 21'st century medicine, the scope of this is absolutely staggering.
I love the results, but the concept scares me still. You are creating a drug that Triggers APOPTOSIS! My God, what if that becomes mutated or adopted by another Virus or some other mechanism? Could the cure trigger Universal Cell Death by some fluke or other virus that inserts dsRNA into all or a majority of cells as a residue? How long does the DRACO remain in the body? If it enters ALL cells in the body and if another Virus comes along later will it still work or do you need more DRACO? Can another virus corrupt the DRACO or a Bacteria tag along one of the Strands of the DRACO to enter ALL Cells? Then what if that BACTERIA Or Virus that latches onto the DRACO starts a series of dsRNA production in each cell but on a timed delay? It first enters the cell with the DRACO, waits 24 hours, starts the dsRNA production and then the DRACO kills every cell in your body. You are dead.
I have the same concerns as TiagoToago, However I don't have a clue. My training is in the Electrical/Electronics field.
A decade is a period of 10 years. So technically, it was discovered 8 decades ago...
My husband had a liver transplant 10 years ago due to hepatitis C. He has just learned that the hepatitis has returned and his doctor is planning on trying interferon to treat it. But is this anti-viral medication works it would be a dream come true for us. Thank you, Carrie Massie

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