August 2011, Week 4


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Mon, 22 Aug 2011 00:43:06 -0400
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MIT Lincoln Laboratory Researchers Develop A Technique
To Cure A Broad Range Of Viruses
Todd Rider et al.
MIT Lincoln Laboratory
August 2011

[Moderator: the original journal article is here -

Viral pathogens pose serious health threats worldwide.
For clinical viruses such as HIV or hepatitis, emerging
viruses such as avian or swine influenza, and highly
lethal viruses such as Ebola or smallpox that might be
used in bioterrorist attacks, relatively few
therapeutics or prophylactics (preventatives) exist.
Most therapeutics that do exist are highly specific for
one virus, are ineffective against virus strains that
become resistant to them, or have adverse effects on

As part of the PANACEA (for Pharmacological Augmentation
of Nonspecific Anti-pathogen Cellular Enzymes and
Activities) project, researchers from MIT Lincoln
Laboratory have developed and demonstrated a novel
broad-spectrum antiviral approach, called DRACO (for
Double-stranded RNA [dsRNA] Activated Caspase
Oligomerizer). DRACO selectively induces apoptosis, or
cell suicide, in cells containing any viral dsRNA,
rapidly killing infected cells without harming
uninfected cells. As a result, DRACO should be effective
against virtually all viruses, rapidly terminating a
viral infection while minimizing the impact on the
patient. Todd Rider investigating virus cells Todd Rider
invented the PANACEA and DRACO antiviral therapeutics,
and previously invented the CANARY (Cellular Analysis
and Notification of Antigen Risks and Yields) sensor for
rapid pathogen detection and identification.

Dr. Todd Rider, senior staff scientist in MIT Lincoln
Laboratory's Chemical, Biological, and Nanoscale
Technologies Group, invented PANACEA and the DRACO
therapeutics, and led the team that developed them:
Scott Wick, in charge of DRACO production; Christina
Zook, in charge of cell testing; Tara Boettcher, in
charge of mouse trials; and Jennifer Pancoast and
Benjamin Zusman, who performed additional experiments.

In work reported in the journal PLoS ONE, DRACO was
shown to be effective against all 15 viruses that the
team has so far tested in cells, including cold viruses
(rhinoviruses), H1N1 influenza strains, adenoviruses, a
stomach virus (reovirus), a polio virus, dengue fever
virus, and several members of hemorrhagic fever
arenavirus and bunyavirus families. DRACO was also
demonstrated to be nontoxic in 11 different cell types
representing various species (e.g., humans, monkeys,
mice) and organ types (e.g., heart, lung, liver,
kidney). In addition, experiments demonstrated that
DRACO not only is nontoxic to mice but also can save
mice infected with a lethal dose of H1N1 influenza.
Currently, the team is testing additional viruses in
mice and beginning to get promising results with those
as well. microscope image of virus cells, before and
after DRACO The microscope images above show that DRACO
successfully treats viral infections. In the left set of
four photos, rhinovirus (the common cold virus) kills
untreated human cells (lower left), whereas DRACO has no
toxicity in uninfected cells (upper right) and cures an
infected cell population (lower right). Similarly, in
the right set of four photos, dengue hemorrhagic fever
virus kills untreated monkey cells (lower left), whereas
DRACO has no toxicity in uninfected cells (upper right)
and cures an infected cell population (lower right).

Dr. Rider says that although more extensive testing is
needed, "DRACO has the potential to revolutionize the
treatment and prevention of virtually all viral
diseases, including everything from the common cold to
Ebola." He adds, "Because the antiviral activity of
DRACO is so broad spectrum, we hope that it may even be
useful against outbreaks of new or mutated viruses, such
as the 2003 SARS [severe acute respiratory syndrome]

This work is funded by a grant from the National
Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the New
England Regional Center of Excellence for Biodefense and
Emerging Infectious Diseases, with previous funding from
the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Defense
Threat Reduction Agency, and Director of Defense
Research & Engineering (now the Assistant Secretary of
Defense for Research and Engineering).


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