When you get a bacterial infection, conventional doctors typically give you antibiotics. But when you get a virus, like the common cold, they might still give you antibiotics (even though they won't help). Or they will tell you to rest, drink fluids, and wait it out. There's usually not much they can offer. They tell you to just wait until your immune system takes over. This might cost you a few days of missed work, but usually it's not a big deal — unless the virus is serious. When it is, there still isn't much conventional doctors can do, other than support your immune system in its battle. Fortunately, a new discovery may help them do that more effectively and may even lead to the development of antiviral drugs.
Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine working with mice have identified a way to both increase their immune system and attack a protein that helps viruses replicate. This one-two punch helped the mice fight off a serious virus.
In their study, published in Nature Immunology, the researchers figured out a way to strengthen the body's interferon signaling system, which plays a major role in the immune system's ability to fight off viruses. Senior author Michael J. Holtzman, MD, a Selma and Herman Seldin Professor of Medicine, explained, "We've discovered a new component of the interferon system. It does something that other components don't do, and it works on both sides of the fence: It dials up the body's internal genes that fight viruses, and it attacks viral proteins directly."
When they genetically engineered mice to have improved interferon signals, the mice fared far better when exposed to the encephalomycodarditis virus. This virus isn't just your common cold. It causes major damage to the brain and heart. Not one of the control mice survived infection. But a whopping 97% of the engineered mice did!
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The researchers tried making the virus 100 times more concentrated. Still, 82% of the engineered mice survived. They tried decreasing the concentration 100-fold. More of the control group made it through alive — about 25 to 28%. But every single one of the engineered mice survived.
Holtzman noted that other groups that have worked with the interferon system have not only had more modest results, they also experienced an increase in autoimmune problems and a chronically activated immune response. None of the mice had this problem, which Holtzman believes may be because rather than increasing the amount of interferon in the system, the researchers instead focused on increasing the amounts of the protein STAT1. This may have given the system more power without confusing its ability to turn off and on.
The researchers also found that the genetic alteration activated molecules that not only fight viruses, but also destroy a viral protein called 3C protease. Many viruses need this protein in order to replicate themselves and continue attacking the body. This has given the researchers good guidance on how they may want to structure a drug designed to fight viruses.
While they're still a ways off from developing a cure for the common cold, this research is promising, as viruses can be a major health hazard when they're severe. Hopefully soon you won't have to shell out money to visit the doctor only to receive the same advice your grandmother would have given you — rest up and eat some chicken noodle soup. They may actually be able to help!
As I've said in the past, drugs may play a role in fighting extremely serious viruses. But the best way to fight it is to not get it. Instead, read the special article in this month's Second Opinion on ozone therapy. This in-home therapy can prevent and treat any virus you may get. And, amazingly enough, scientists showed us over 20 years ago that ozone therapy stimulates the interferon system! It could save your life. If you're not a subscriber to Second Opinion, you can order it here.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD