Leeds boffins make cold breakthrough

Scientists believe they are closer to unlocking the common cold virus.
Scientists believe they are closer to unlocking the common cold virus.
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SCIENTISTS in Leeds believe they have come a step closer to unlocking the “enigma code” that causes the common cold.

Researchers yesterday published the workings of a ‘hidden code’ within the gene family that includes the cold, polio, and hand foot and mouth disease.

The genetic code, said to “work like the cog wheels in a Swiss watch”, could be the key to finally creating a cure for a disease that continues to bring misery to millions.

The Leeds University scientists believe their findings could lead to the development of new drug treatments within a decade that would be the medical equivalent of “pouring sand into a watch”.

Their work, in partnership with universities in York and Helsinki, builds on their discovery of two years ago which identified a set of encrypted signals in a plant virus similar to the structure of Human Parechovirus, which infects humans and can cause sepsis-like illness and meningitis in children.

They found that the details of the decoding mechanism appear identical in all strains of the virus, potentially allowing a single drug to treat them all - something not possible with a vaccine.

Professor Peter Stockley, from Leeds University, said: “The coding works like the cog wheels in a Swiss watch. We now need a drug that has the same effect as pouring sand into the watch; every part of the viral mechanism could be disabled.”

He added: “We need to move away from a vaccine approach, which is what we have for flu and polio.”

Professor Reidun Twarock at York University said: “The common cold infects more than two billion people annually, making it one of the most successful viral pathogens, so we are excited to make this crucial step forward.”