Washington: Using a new supercomputer, Melbourne scientists have for the first time modelled the movement of the virus that causes the common cold.
The breakthrough opens up new targets for drug treatments, which could save many lives worldwide.
While the common cold does not cause much harm to healthy individuals, it often exacerbates common lung conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, causing many hospitalisations and deaths each year.
For this reason, scientists are trying to find new treatments for rhinovirus, the most frequent cause of the common cold.
The deputy director of the St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research, Professor Michael Parker, said he and his team had been working with pharmaceutical company Biota Holdings Ltd to understand the rhinovirus for a new drug to treat it in vulnerable people.
He said they had used Melbourne’s synchrotron — a giant microscope — to look at the three-dimensional structure of the virus and had now used the supercomputer to show how the virus moves.
“If you consider a virus as an organism, this is the first simulation of a whole organism, which is pretty exciting. No one has been able to do this before. It helps us understand how the virus works,” the Age quoted Professor Parker as saying.
He said the information was useful for Biota Holdings Ltd, which has its drug in phase two trials, but would also be published for the use of scientists worldwide.
“This could make a huge difference. For some people, it could be the difference between life and death,” Professor Parker said.
Professor Parker said the simulation had also boosted hopes researchers could do the same for a range of other viruses including polio and meningitis, and open up new targets for drug treatments.
“All this work we’re doing now with the supercomputer will hopefully open up new paths for drug discovery,” he noted.