February 13, 2009

Researchers crack codes for common cold

U.S. scientists say they are getting closer to one of medicine's elusive goals -- finding a cure for the common cold.

A team of experts reported cracking the genetic codes of the 99 strains of common cold viruses and creating a catalog of vulnerabilities, The New York Times said Friday.

The researchers felt quite certain that a very effective treatment for the common cold is at hand, said Stephen Liggett, an asthma expert at the University of Maryland and co-author of the finding.

I would love for there to be a one-drug-fits-all, but they are all too different, Liggett said.

But he said the good news is experts can start looking at specific groups of similar viruses, identify the really nasty ones and target those.

Before we did this, we were shooting in the dark, Liggett said.

Cautioning that a cure or a vaccine may be many years away, researchers said the next step is to gather more strains of the rhinovirus and map their genomes.

The findings, published this week in the journal Science, indicated why researchers found it so difficult to build effective drugs to combat the virus, which sickens millions each year and sends thousands of children with asthma to the hospital, the Chicago Tribune said.

We have never known what (the viruses) all look like, and if you want to go after them, you need to know that, said Ann Palmenberg, co-author of the study and a molecular virologist at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Experts say that besides effectively tackling the cold everyone is familiar with, a true cold-fighting drug could be a godsend for the 20 million people who have asthma. The common cold virus, a rhinovirus, is thought to set off half of all asthma attacks.

But the cost could be a prohibitive force. Experts put a $700 million price tag on development of a new drug, and a cold is still mostly a minor nuisance.