UK researchers have reported a discovery that could lead to new ways to fight the common cold, according to the Guardian. In a study published Monday in the journal Nature Chemistry, the scientists describe using a chemical compound to affect enzymes in the body that the virus uses in its replication process.

The common cold, typically caused by the rhinovirus, has eluded treatment through vaccination or antiviral drugs, due in part to its many forms and its ability to quickly mutate to become drug-resistant. Centuries of efforts by scientists have failed to yield much progress, in treating a condition that has serious consequences for individuals with vulnerable respiratory systems, such as those with asthma or cystic fibrosis.

The new study describes how this new approach can help to prevent the virus from becoming drug-resistant, by interacting with an enzyme already in the human body.

One of the study’s co-authors, visiting professor at the National Heart and Lung Institute of Imperial College London Robert Solari, explains:

“Viruses hijack the host to make more copies of themselves. This enzyme is one of the host enzymes that the virus hijacks.”

The researchers observed how molecules interact with the enzyme, which affixes a fatty acid molecule to proteins. On their own, the molecules did little to affect the way the enzyme operates. But a pair of the molecules, chemically bonded and working together, was able to stop the enzyme from functioning this way. This prevents the virus from using the enzyme to construct a protein coat around its genetic material.

“What we found is if we block the addition of this fat, the coat doesn’t assemble so the virus doesn’t package its genes into its coat,” according to Solano. “The virus still makes its own genes, it makes the coat, but the coat can’t assemble so the virus can’t replicate – you actually don’t make infectious particles.”

According to the researchers, this stops the virus from replicating, and had a similar effect on other viruses in the same family, including polio and foot-and-mouth disease. But so far, the technique has only been tested on cells in a petri dish, and Solari says there is still a long road ahead to reach a cure.

“We haven’t done any animal studies, and we obviously haven’t done any studies in humans, so I can’t tell you formally what the animal toxicity of this compound is,” he said, noting also that researchers are certain if the compound would work by the time cold symptoms actually appear, which is usually days after the initial infection.

“There is a still a long way before this becomes a medicine,” according to Solari.

And when a medicine does become available, it will probably be reserved for vulnerable patients with conditions with asthma, Solari added.

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