London: Scientists have moved a step closer to a cure for the common cold and the winter vomiting bug after they pinpointed a vital mechanism the body uses to fight off viruses.
The landmark discovery by scientists at a Medical Research Council lab at Cambridge University could transform our understanding of immunity to illness and lead to new treatments for common germs.
Experts said pills or powders could be on the market within a decade, sparing millions the misery of coughs and sneezes and the pain and indignity caused by norovirus, or the winter vomiting bug.
The breakthrough centres on boosting the body’s natural defences against viruses.
Viruses need to infect cells, such as those in the nose, lungs and stomach, to live and breed.
It had been thought that antibodies tackled viruses by attacking them outside the cells and stopping them getting inside.
However, the latest work shows that the antibodies can also enter cells, making their way in at the same time as the virus. Once inside, the antibody triggers a chain of reactions, which leads to a protein called TRIM21 ejecting the virus from the cell.
TRIM21 usually springs to life very quickly, before the virus has harmed the cell. The scientists have used the results to create drugs that raise levels of TRIM21.
In experiments in the lab, they stopped viruses similar to those behind the winter vomiting bug and many colds from causing infections, the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports.
“Doctors have plenty of antibiotics to fight bacterial infections but few anti-viral drugs,” the Daily Mail quoted Dr Leo James, the study’s lead author, as saying.
“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 anti-viral drugs,” James added.