Cure for the common cold?
Possibly, say a team of researchers from the University of Maryland. Their paper in this week's Science, in which Stephen Liggett and his colleagues present the genetic fingerprints of almost all of the 99 families of rhinoviruses, is revealing new ways to knock these seasonal nuisances on the head.
"We generally think of colds as a nuisance, but they can be debilitating in the very young and in older individuals, and can trigger asthma attacks at any age. Also, recent studies indicate that early rhinovirus infection in children can programme their immune system to develop asthma by adolescence," says Liggett.
The researchers found that human rhinoviruses are organized into about 15 small groups that come from distant ancestors. The discovery of these multiple groups explains why a one drug or vaccine fits all approach for the common cold will not work. But, says Liggett, "what we're able to do with the genetic sequence data we've produced is to spot regions of the viral genomes that are very conserved - in other words change very little between different strains. Targeting a therapy at those regions is likely to prove most effective. Also, developing a suite of agents specific to different viral sub-groups and then testing patients to find out what strain they're infected with could also prove effective."
Most critically the work will inevitably reveal to scientists a huge amount of detail about how the viruses recognise and invade our cells, which ones are linked to the worst symptoms including asthma attacks and hence why, and thus ways to block these effects.
"With all this information at hand, we see strong potential for the development of the long-sought cure for the common cold, using modern genomic and molecular techniques," says Liggett.