A very interesting scientific finding reported in today's NYT.
Curing the common cold, one of medicine’s most elusive goals, may now be in the realm of the possible. Researchers said Thursday that they had decoded the genomes of the 99 strains of common cold virus and developed a catalog of its vulnerabilities.
“We are now quite certain that we see the Achilles’ heel, and that a very effective treatment for the common cold is at hand,” said Stephen B. Liggett, an asthma expert at the University of Maryland and co-author of the finding.
Besides alleviating the achy, sniffly misery familiar to everyone, a true cold-fighting drug could be a godsend for the 20 million people who suffer from asthma and the millions of others with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The common cold virus, a rhinovirus, is thought to set off half of all asthma attacks.
The rhinovirus has a genome of about 7,000 chemical units, which encode the information to make the 10 proteins that do everything the virus needs to infect cells and make more viruses.By comparing the 99 genomes with one another, the researchers were able to arrange them in a family tree based on similarities in their genomes.That family tree shows that some regions of the rhinovirus genome are changing all the time but that others never change. The fact that the unchanging regions are so conserved over the course of evolutionary time means that they perform vital roles and that the virus cannot let them change without perishing. They are therefore ideal targets for drugs because, in principle, any of the 99 strains would succumb to the same drug.
The researchers, who conducted the genetic decoding with the aid of Dr. Claire Fraser-Liggett at the University of Maryland, published their insights into the rhinovirus on Thursday in the online edition of Science.