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A cure for the common cold? Excuse me while I sneeze.

Fergus Walsh | 17:55 UK time, Tuesday, 2 November 2010

As autumn sets in, and another round of seasonal viruses infects the population, we would all appreciate a cure for the common cold. But despite interesting research from Cambridge, do not expect a breakthrough any time soon.

What scientists at the world-renowned MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology have done is some fascinating fundamental research which appears to change our understanding of how our immune system fights viral diseases like the common cold, winter vomiting bug and gastroenteritis.

But a cure for the common cold? Excuse me while I sneeze.

Up to now it was thought that antibodies worked only outside cells, trying to destroy viruses and prevent them from infecting cells. This new research shows that, with certain viruses, antibodies cling onto them as they invade the cell.

Once inside the cell the antibodies attract the attention of a protein called TRIM21.
This in turn pulls the virus into a disposal system used by the cell to ret rid of unwanted material. This has to be done quickly, before the virus has a chance to hijack the cell to replicate itself. There's an excellent animation which shows the process.

In theory medicines might be developed which enhanced our ability to fight such viruses, but treatments would take many years to develop and test and a cure for the common cold remains a distant dream.

There are around 200 different viruses that cause the cold. In 1946 the MRC set up the Common Cold Unit on the site of a former military hospital in Wiltshire. For four decades researchers studied the effects of cold viruses on human volunteers. In 1988 the Common Cold Centre was established at Cardiff University to conduct clinical trials on new treatments for common cold and flu.

Having had a stinking cold for the past week, I will be waiting with interest to see how long it takes the researchers in Cambridge to transform their research into something of practical use to cold sufferers the world over.


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