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Drug Developed at MIT Could be Answer to Viral Infections

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It’s scientific jargon at its best. A drug called DRACO binds to double-stranded RNA to initiate apoptosis, or cell suicide. But it’s all good, especially in the labs of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, where scientists have revealed DRACO as a breakthrough drug with the potential to fight any viral infection.

That means that with further testing and product development, DRACO might eventually go to work against the common cold, stomach flu, influenza and a host of other conditions fueled by a variety of viruses.

As explained in the August 11, 2011, online edition of Time magazine, DRACO is a broad-spectrum treatment that zeroes in on any virally infected cells and triggers cell suicide while leaving healthy cells alone. “In theory, it should work against all viruses,” said Todd Rider of MIT Lincoln Laboratory’s Chemical, Biological, and Nanoscale Technologies Group, the scientists behind the new technology.

DRACO stands for Double-stranded RNA Activated Caspase Oligomerizers. In simple terms, double-stranded RNA is what happens when a virus takes over a healthy cell and starts replicating. But our bodies naturally produce proteins to attach to double-stranded RNA to fight viral infections. In developing DRACO, the MIT scientists combined these proteins with yet other proteins that induce cell suicide. And it worked on lab mice, wiping out an infection of the H1N1 flu virus.

According to Time magazine, DRACO was effective against 15 different viruses in lab tests using animal and human cells.

Still needed are additional lab trials with infected mice. Then DRACO could move on to trials involving larger animals and eventually humans.

The long-term implications are pretty amazing, if DRACO testing moves forward: possible cures for not only the common cold and flu, but also dengue fever, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and polio. Someone commenting online at the MIT site announcing the breakthrough said DRACO could be as big as the 20th century discovery of penicillin to fight bacterial infections. Another commenter said it’s too early to call DRACO a “cure” and cautioned that in the long run it might be too costly for human use.


Trafton, Anne. “New drug could cure nearly any viral infection.” MIT News. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Web. 15 Aug. 2011. http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2011/antiviral-0810.html

Melnick, Meredith. “MIT scientists develop a drug to fight any viral infection.” Time Healthland. Time Magazine. Web. 15 Aug. 2011. http://healthland.time.com/2011/08/11/mit-scientists-develop-a-drug-to-fight-any-viral-infection

Reviewed August 15, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith

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