Rejoice, for scientists have made a breakthrough in the quest to annihilate the common cold once and for all. It turns out that, instead of a wonder drug or treatment forged in the scientific crucible of a laboratory somewhere, a type of common biochemical found in both humans and a range of other animals may have been the key all along.
Before you get too excited though, it must be said that this is an incremental step in the right direction, not a giant leap. Don’t expect to be sniffle-less anytime in the near future.
The team, led by Edinburgh Napier University, spent five years looking at chemicals that had antimicrobial effects; specifically, they were looking for signs that they counteracted the rhinovirus (“nose” virus), the most common viral infectious agent in humans, and the primary cause of the common cold.
Peptides were the focus of their work, which explains why the paper was submitted to the ultra-specific journal Peptides.
Previous research by the same team had shown that they seem to disrupt the spread of the influenza A virus; other studies indicate that these biochemicals can even build up the resistance of certain animals against infection by so-called “superbugs”.
Basing their designs on certain peptides found in sheep and pigs, the team synthesized their own in a laboratory that would be compatible with human cells. Then, infusing some lung cells infected with a rhinovirus strain, they stood back and watched the peptides not just block the path of the virus, but physically attack it.
In fact, the peptide attacks the virus both pre- and post-cellular infection. It also doesn’t appear to do any damage to the cells themselves, contrary to previous infection models that used bacteria as a proxy.
Although this is just at the proof-of-concept stage – clinical trials are a long way off – this is an exciting step. The team conclude their study by declaring the “delivery” of “novel synthetic [peptides] represent an exciting and novel therapeutic strategy for rhinovirus infection.“
It’s worth pointing out that there are 99 types of human rhinoviruses, all with different pathologies. This study just assessed the impact of peptides on one: Human Rhinovirus strain 1 B (RV1B), so at present, we know that this technique is unambiguously effective at attacking just one strain.
However, human rhinoviruses are all pretty similar, so there’s a good chance that the same method will work to some degree on other strains too – pending additional research, of course.
“This research is still in the early stages,” Peter Barlon, the associate professor of immunology and infection at Edinburgh Napier said in a statement, “but we will ultimately be looking to develop drug treatments that have the potential to cure the common cold.”