Meet “DRACO” – short for Double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) Activated Caspase Oligomerizer. It’s an all-purpose anti-viral agent. So far, in tests in mice, DRACO kills cells infected with viruses, but leaves uninfected cells alone and unharmed. Early testing shows the DRACO concept works to cure 15 different viruses, including H1N1 influenza, adenovirus, and rhinovirus – yes, the one that causes the common cold. It’s not a vaccine; it’s a whole new potential class of anti-viral medications. Here’s a link to PLoS One, the online journal that recently published this study.
DRACO combines two natural processes – detection of viral infection, and apotosis (cell death). The MIT breakthrough was to come up with idea to combine the two separate protein molecules responsible for these processes, and to actually make it work in the lab.
Here’s the concept: normal mammalian cells do not normally produce long strands of double-stranded RNA unless they are infected with a virus. The DRACO has a portion- called protein kinase R – that binds to this abnormal dsRNA. Think of this as the “homing beacon” for the DRACO anti-viral missile.
When two or more DRACO’s bind to the viral RNA and cross-link to one another, the enzyme part of DRACO – called apoptotic protease activating factor 1 (APAF-1) – gets turned on… and destructive enzymes are released, killing the cell and destroying the virus. The missile destroys the target. If there is no viral RNA to be seen, the DRACO missile flies right on by, leaving normal, healthy cells unharmed.
Of course, this work is still very, very preliminary. All sorts of clinical testing needs to be done – but the potential, if the concept works, is huge. Can you imagine: a cure for all viruses?
Very cool stuff. It could be the biggest medical breakthrough since the discovery of penicilli