New Findings Raise Hope for Drugs to Treat Viral Diseases
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Scientists said Wednesday they have finally mapped one of the tiny viruses that cause the common cold, raising hopes for vaccines or other drugs to fight any number of life-threatening or merely pesky viral ailments.
The findings could lead to new progress against diseases ranging all the way from sniffles to multiple sclerosis to leukemia and perhaps even to the mysterious and deadly AIDS virus, the lead researcher, Purdue University Prof. Michael Rossmann, said at a news conference.
He said there was great scientific significance in his group’s ability to put together a three-dimensional map of a human virus - the first time such a viral code has ever been cracked - making it possible to study exquisitely tiny interactions within the body.
However, he made it clear that drug-counter applications of his findings are still hopes rather than realities.
Rossmann, whose Purdue team worked in collaboration with a University of Wisconsin group headed by Roland Rueckert, said there actually may never be a one-shot vaccine for colds because they can be caused by more than 100 different viruses.
Still, 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 would attack not the virus itself but would involve the site where the virus attaches to healthy cells.
As for broader significance, an official of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said in an interview that Rossmann’s findings were ″a good basic piece of information.″
″It takes a lot of pieces to put together something of clinical importance,″ added William Allen, a virology program officer for the federal institute, which helped pay for the research.
He said Rossmann and Dr. Robert Gallo of the National Cancer Institute were already setting up an experiment aimed at mapping leukemia-linked viruses using the same high-technolgy processes used on the cold virus. The virus that apparently causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS, could eventually be part of that effort, though success in that area ″is very speculative,″ Allen said.
Rossmann said he was most concerned with understanding viruses, but he also said the new results made a drug against colds ″much more possible, absolutely.″
Seeing the cold virus’ structure - in detail down to three hundred- millionths of a centimeter - gives scientists crucial clues on how the virus attaches to healthy cells, he said. He described a 20-sided, soccer- ball- shaped organism with a protein shell surrounding a core of the genetic material ribonucleic acid.
Possible cold defenses suggested by such information include development of a drug that would mimic the receptors where the virus can attach to healthy cells, said David Kingsbury, assistant director of the National Science Foundation for biological, behavioral and social sciences. Such a drug might attract and soak up the viruses before they could bring on the sneezes and stuffy noses.
The NSF and the NIH also helped pay for the experiments, which relied heavily on such high-technology machinery as Purdue’s 205 supercomputer and the Cornell University High Energy Synchrotron Source.
Basically, the experiments involved growing virus crystals, which were then 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.
Rossmann 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 results of the experiments were to be published in Thursday’s issue of the British science journal Nature.