Behind the headlines: Is a cure for common colds possible?

Drugs to treat the common cold could become a reality after a breakthrough in understanding how the body fights viruses, according to news reports.

Possible cure for common cold (Photograph: Istock)

Previously it was thought the body's immune system was only capable of pursuing viruses outside cells.

But scientists from the Medical Research Council in Cambridge discovered that antibodies are also capable of fighting viruses within cells.

New drugs could exploit this natural immune mechanism to beat previously untreatable illnesses, the researchers suggested.


Informing Patients
  • Antibodies can fight viruses within cells as well as outside them.
  • Boosting levels of an intermediate protein may improve immune response.
  • Drugs to stimulate this effect are still years away, however.

How significant is the data?
Earlier work showed an intra-cellular protein called tripartite motif-containing 21 (TRIM21) is capable of binding to antibodies.

A team led by Dr Leo James set out to investigate whether this meant antibodies were capable of acting within cells as well as outside.

To do this, they attached antibodies to the surface of adenoviruses and used them to infect cells. The antibodies were tagged with a fluorescent dye so they could be visualised.

Researchers found the antibodies not only entered the cell still attached to the virus, but attracted the protein TRIM21 to bind to the virus and trigger its disintegration.

The researchers said: 'Because TRIM21 neutralisation occurs before the transcription of viral genes, this offers the possibility of "curing" rather than killing an infected cell.'

They also showed that increasing the level of TRIM21 protein in cells makes the process more effective. Drugs that increase TRIM21 levels could boost immune response to viral diseases like the common cold, winter vomiting and gastroenteritis, they said.

Are new treatments likely?
Lead author Dr James said: 'Doctors have plenty of antibiotics to fight bacterial infections but few antiviral drugs.

'Although these are early days, and we don't yet know whether all viruses are cleared by this mechanism, we are excited that our discoveries may open multiple avenues for developing new antiviral drugs.'

Berkshire GP Dr George Kassianos, RCGP immunisation lead, believes the findings are a landmark discovery.

'Up to now, we thought the immobilisation and destroying of the virus attacked by antibodies was a straightforward attack on the surface of the virus. We now know the real action actually takes place inside the attacked virus.'

He continued: 'By understanding the mechanism and the process of such an attack we can look for ways of boosting the process.'

Although in principle drugs could strengthen this natural response, the researchers said they are many years from reality.

Stephen Robinson

GP Online recommends

PNAS 2010 online

Read more

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register

Already registered?

Sign in

Follow Us:


Just published

NHS prescription and packet of pills

GPs can now prescribe flu antivirals on the NHS

GPs and other prescribers are now able to issue NHS prescriptions for antivirals...

GP sign

Prevention set to be key battleground for 2024 GP contract

Negotiations on a new GP contract from 2024/25 will need to 'align closely' with...

Talking General Practice logo

Podcast: What makes a strong PCN and how will integrated care systems affect networks?

Talking General Practice speaks to GP and PCN clinical director Professor Aruna Garcea,...

Money

GP core funding rise outstripped by staff pay awards under five-year contract

Staff pay awards have outstripped increases in core GP practice funding between 2019/20...

BMA sign

Fifth of GP time spent on non-medical work as NHS absorbs cost of 'government failure'

Doctors are 'picking up the pieces of government failures' as the cost-of-living...

COPD

How the five fundamentals of COPD care can help GPs support patients

GP Dr Andrew Whittamore, clinical lead at Asthma + Lung UK, explains NICE’s five...