Health: Sniffing out a perfect way to crack the common cold

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It’s an ailment that has become the norm for most people throughout the winter months.

However scientists in Leeds claim they have cracked the code that could help towards a cure for the common cold.

Experts from Leeds University believe they have jammed the code that can disrupt major viruses including polio and the common cold.

Peter Stockley, Professor of Biological Chemistry at Leeds University, who led the breakthrough study with colleagues at York University, said they have found the ‘Enigma Machine’ to crack the puzzle.

He said: “If you think of this as molecular warfare, these are the encrypted signals that allow a virus to deploy itself effectively.

“Now, for this whole class of viruses, we have found the ‘Enigma machine’ - the coding system that was hiding these signals from us.

“We have shown that not only can we read these messages but we can jam them and stop the virus deployment.”

Experts say single-stranded ribonucleic acid viruses, which are responsible for the common cold, are the simplest type of virus and were probably one of the earliest to evolve.

Rhinovirus, which causes the common cold, accounts for more infections every year than all other infectious agents put together amounting to about one billion cases.

Others in the same group include the hepatitis C virus, HIV and the winter vomiting bug norovirus.

Roman Tuma, reader in biophysics at the university, said approaches could be devised to interfere with the code - effectively stopping the virus in its tracks. He said: “We have understood for decades that the RNA carries the genetic messages that create viral proteins, but we didn’t know that, hidden within the stream of letters we use to denote the genetic information, is a second code governing virus assembly.

“It is like finding a secret message within an ordinary news report and then being able to crack the whole coding system behind it.”


Researchers involved in the recent study hope it could lead to the development of drugs to disrupt the viruses.

When you get a cold, the virus attacks the nose and the back of the throat, and it doesn’t take long for the body’s natural defences to start to work.

When you have a cold, the blood vessels swell up as infection-fighting white blood cells take control. This narrows the air passage in your nose and restricts the airflow as you breathe.

The general incubation period for a common cold usually lasts around two days.