I know what you’re thinking – “Isn’t this how the zombie apocalypse starts?” And I just got home from seeing Rise of the Planet of the Apes so I’m not sure we should be testing this on apes just yet, but MIT has designed a drug called DRACO that might revolutionize the way we treat viruses. The drug can identify cells that have been infected by any type of virus, then kill those cells to terminate the infection. DRACO has already been tested against 15 viruses – including rhinoviruses that cause the common cold, H1N1, polio, and a stomach flu – and it was effective against all of them.
Here’s how DRACO (Double-stranded RNA Activated Caspase Oligomerizers) works: When a virus infects a cell, it creates double-stranded RNA (which is not normally found in humans or animals). Our cells have special proteins that latch onto the double-stranded RNA in order to protect us, but viruses have developed ways to fight back against these proteins. What DRACO does is attach to these proteins, and then when these proteins attach to infected cells, DRACO sends a signal to that cell to commit suicide. So basically DRACO is like a suicide bomber, but in a good way, because it only detonates when it’s locked onto the virus.
Testing is continuing in mice and MIT is awaiting licenses to begin testing in animals, and eventually humans. Go science!