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Treating Viruses: Scientists Act Together To Advance Information in The Field

Armen Hareyan's picture

Flu Treatment

First it's a sore throat, followed by some aches, sniffles and then, suddenly it's a full-fledged cold. If a cold is so common, why can't someone find a cure for it?

According to a Penn State virologist, finding a cure is not the issue.

"We have treatments that we could use today," said Craig Cameron, the Paul Berg professor of biochemistry and molecular biology. "The problem isn't the cure, it's the diagnosis. Coxsackievirus, influenza, rhinovirus and SARS coronavirus all present themselves in the same way, we need to quickly know which virus you've been infected with to treat you properly."

Cameron is part of a collaborative group of Penn State scientists studying not only rhinovirus, the causative agent of the common cold, but also Coxsackievirus, West Nile virus, poliovirus and hepatitis C and A viruses.

Viruses traditionally have been difficult to treat because they replicate themselves using a body's own cells' enzymes and proteins. Cameron's lab is working to use the virus' own replication process to help destroy it without harming healthy cells - or, as Cameron describes the intended result, "mutate itself to death."

So far they have some promising results that could lead to antiviral drug development. Cameron attributes it to the collaborative nature of Penn State, citing Evan Pugh professor and Eberly chair in chemistry Stephen Benkovic's work with enzymes as being instrumental in helping guide his lab's work into the design of potential drug candidates.

Cameron has taken this type of collaboration to greater heights by bringing the 24th annual meeting of the American Society for Virology to Penn State's University Park campus last summer. The event drew nearly 1,200 experts from all over the country; some even showed a sense of humor, sporting t-shirts that said, "My Work Is Infectious."

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Jokes aside, the scientists took the work seriously. "During this meeting, we try to enhance and promote interaction between scientists at all levels, including students and post-docs," said Cameron.

Preventative Measures

News of a possible influenza pandemic has been spreading fear throughout the world. A recent report in the Washington Post noted that people even are building their own home stockpiles of Tamiflu, medication to fight the avian flu that is causing the unease.

Cameron believes that the manufacturing process of such a drug is not difficult and stockpiling is unnecessary - and, in the short term (this flu season) will limit availability of the drug for those who may need it.

"The potential for a flu pandemic is real," said Cameron. "However, I have high confidence in the capacity of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization and collaborators to develop vaccines to limit spreading... and drugs such as Tamiflu can antagonize the process of flu infection."

In the meantime, Cameron has some tips on how to stay healthy during the upcoming cold season:

  • Wash your hands with soap.

  • Some of the easiest places to spread (and catch) colds are conference receptions. "You'll be shaking hands and then eating finger food," said Cameron. "Not all virus pathogens are airborne, many travel hand to hand so when you eat that snack you ingest the pathogen." Try Cameron's solution: "I keep disinfecting towelettes in my pocket."

  • Drink plenty of water. It can help to diminish infection by airborne pathogens such as the cold virus.