Tiny molecule in the immune system could help develop cure for common cold

A tiny molecule found in the immune systems of humans and animals could be used to develop a cure for the common cold, new research suggests.

A team at Edinburgh Napier University have uncovered exciting new possibilities for treatments based on ‘antimicrobial peptides’ that occur naturally in humans and animals, and increase in response to infection.

A five-year study into peptides from different mammals found they all had properties that can combat rhinovirus, the main virus responsible for the common cold infection in humans.

Now it is hoped scientists will use this information to develop drugs that treat the common cold and help to protect sufferers of chronic lung conditions like asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) for whom viral infections can be extremely serious.

Dr Peter Barlow, Associate Professor of Immunology & Infection at Edinburgh Napier, hailed the new research as “an exciting development”.

He said:

There is no cure and no vaccine so the development of effective therapies for human rhinovirus, the main causal agent of the common cold, and one of the most common causes of viral respiratory tract infections, is an urgent requirement. This study represents a major step towards finding a treatment.

Earlier research by Dr Barlow underlined the potential of antimicrobial peptides in tackling the influenza A virus. This study suggested treatments that increased the level of antimicrobial peptides in someone infected with the flu virus may provide significant protection against the disease.

The new £200,000 study, funded by the Chief Scientist Office and medical research charity Tenovus Scotland, expanded the work to explore the potential of antimicrobial peptides from pigs and sheep for fighting rhinovirus.

Using peptides ‘synthesized’ in the laboratory, researchers Filipa Henderson Sousa and Dr Victor Casanova assessed the impact of the different peptides on lung cells infected with human rhinovirus.

The peptides successfully attacked the virus, and could provide clues for developing novel treatments based on peptides found in nature.

Dr Barlow said:

This is an exciting discovery and our next steps will be to modify the peptide to make it even better at killing this virus. This research is still in the early stages, but we will ultimately be looking to develop drug treatments that have the potential to cure the common cold.

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