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Researchers Make Big Step Towards Finding Cure for Common Cold

September 12, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ It’s not a cure for the common cold, but it could be the biggest step yet in that direction, as well as a ray of hope to finding cures for other more deadly diseases, researchers say.

Scientists said Wednesday they had mapped the three-dimensional makeup of a microscopic cold-causing virus - the first time any human virus has been completely detailed - including tiny points of vulnerability where future vaccines or other drugs might be aimed. The composite image was produced from data fed into a ″supercomputer.″

Since viral agents are to blame for many human ailments, including the deadly as well as the annoying, the new findings could be significant in fights against diseases ranging from stuffy noses to multiple sclerosis to leukemia and even perhaps the mysterious AIDS virus, said the lead researcher, Purdue University Professor Michael Rossmann.

He told a roomful of reporters that many viruses can cause colds, meaning there may never be a one-shot, sneeze and sniffles-preventing vaccine.

However, he said that in light of his group’s findings, ″it may be possible to find a cure for the cold that may not be along the lines of a classic vaccine″ - a drug, for example, that, instead of attacking the virus itself, would lure it away from areas where it might otherwise attach to healthy cells.

Seeing the detailed makeup of cold viruses - down to three hundred- millionths of a centimeter - makes chances of developing effective anti- viral drugs ″much more possible, absolutely,″ he said.

Still, Rossmann emphasized that it would be up to others to develop drug- counter applications for his findings, which resulted from experiments done in collaboration with a Wisconsin group headed by Roland Rueckert and which depended heavily on high-technology machinery at Purdue and Cornell universities.

As for its broader significance, the work adds up to ″a good basic piece of information,″ William Allen, a virology program officer with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview following the news conference.

Allen said Rossmann and Dr. Robert Gallo of the National Cancer Institute were setting up another experiment aimed at similar three-dimensional charting of leukemia-linked viruses. And he said the virus that apparently causes the deadly acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS, could eventually be part of that project, though success in growing the necessary AIDS crystals ″is very speculative.″

Rossmann said the virus his group mapped, known as HRV-14, is a 20-sided, soccer-ball-shaped structure with a protein shell surrounding a core of the genetic material ribonucleic acid.

The National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health helped pay for the experiments, which relied on such modern technology as Purdue’s supercomputer and the Cornell University High Energy Synchrotron Source.

Laboriously grown virus crystals were subjected to X-rays at Cornell, where the synchrotron collected more than 6 million bits of information, which were then analyzed by Purdue’s supercomputer. The Purdue computations alone would have taken 10 years without such a computer, Rossmann said.

In fact, he said he’d been wanting to conduct such experiments for more than 20 years, but they were simply impossible before development of such advanced machinery.

The findings also were being published in the British science journal Nature.

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