Has a Cure for the Common Cold Already Been Discovered?

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Even though the goal of curing the common cold is not quite a forgone conclusion, scientists now say that it appears to be within the realm of possibility as they have finally deciphered the genetic code of the ever-present virus.

Even though the goal of curing the common cold is not quite a forgone conclusion, scientists now say that it appears to be within the realm of possibility as they have finally deciphered the genetic code of the ever-present invasive virus.

Researchers at University of Wisconsin, University of Maryland, and the Craig Venter Institute, recently announced that they have decoded the elusive genetic blueprints of the common cold, essentially demystified the enigma behind how all the viral strains are related to one another, thus enabling them to hone in on the primary culprit: the rhinoviruses.

“We are now quite certain that we see the Achilles’ heel, and that a very effective treatment for the common cold is at hand,” said Stephen B. Liggett, director of the cardiopulmonary genomics program at the University of Maryland and co-author of the study. “There has been brilliant work done trying to synthesize compounds against the common cold,” Dr. Liggett continues, “but we have not been working with a full knowledge of the genetics of rhinoviruses. Now that we have the full complement of known ones, we see there are subfamilies of rhinoviruses clustering together. The hope is that there could be a drug for each subfamily.”

Virus model

The findings of this study, published in the Feb. 12, 2011 issue of Science journal, explains the nature of the human rhinovirus. “We needed the complete genome, so we decided ‘what the heck,’ we’ll take all the ones that haven’t been done and do the whole thing,” stated study co-author Ann Palmenberg of University of Wisconsin-Madison. “We knew a lot about the common cold virus, but we didn't know how their genomes encoded all that information. Now we do, and all kinds of new things are falling out,” Palmenberg said.

But while this is certainly good news for the millions of men, women, and children who contract the opportunistic virus (twice a year on average for adults, and up to ten times a year for children), many wonder why is it that with all our scientific advances in recent decades, including the cracking of the human DNA code, this commonly-contracted disease has not been cured long before now? After all, any number of deadly bacteria-related diseases have been cured, why not the common cold virus?

Well, the answer lies a scientific reality that may surprise many: By scientific definition, the cold virus--like all viruses--is not actually “alive.”

According to scientific definition, all “living” organisms--plants, animals, fungi, protists, archaea, and bacteria--share common characteristics:

> They can assimilate and use energy from the environment

> They rid themselves of waste

> They can actively respond to their environment

> They maintain a relatively constant internal environment (homeostasis)

> They posses an inherent information base (encoded in their DNA) that allows them to function

> They can reproduce through use of the information encoded in their DNA

> They are composed of one or more cells

> They evolved from other living things

> They are highly organized compared to inanimate, non-living objects

Bacteria

Thus, even the simplest bacterium needs an energy source (no less so than more complex animals), responds to its environment (will move away from something it regards as noxious), will switch on certain genes in response to extreme heat or cold, uses its DNA as a repository of information needed to live, reproduces by cellular division, and like humans, evolved from complex living things (bacteria and humans actually share a single common ancestor).

Viruses, however--HIV, adenovirus, arenavirus, entrovirus, herpesvirus, rhinovirus, and about 200 others--possess none of these features on their own. Instead, their modus operandi is to invade a living cell, install their own DNA (or RNA) into that cell, and then use that host cell to replicate themselves. In short, viruses are non-cellular replicating entities that must invade living cells to make copies of themselves, what science call, “obligate intracellular parasites.” Thus, the challenge has always been, “How do kill something that isn’t really alive?”

Virus in action

For the University of Maryland viral study, researchers used 99 virus samples collected by nasal swabs in doctors’ offices over the course of two decades, which they sent to a private nonprofit organization, American Type Culture Collection. Although there are hundreds of strains of human rhinovirus which cause about half of all colds and result in millions of ear infections in children each year, they can be grouped into four species, HRV-A, HRV-B, HRV-C, and HRV-D.  By then mapping the entire genetic sequence, researchers began to consider various ways the disease may ultimately be overcome.

“We knew a lot about the common cold virus, but we didn't know how their genomes encoded all that information. Now we do, and all kinds of new things are falling out,” Palmenberg said.

Project researchers say that while it is quite unlikely that science can create a single vaccine for all types of viruses that affect humans, the current goal isn’t for a single, multi-purpose drug but several since the virus is remarkably adept at mutating. “We may have to have four or five drugs, and you'd need a test at your doctor's office to know which drug will work,” said senior author, Dr. Stephen B. Liggett, director of cardiopulmonary genomics at the University Of Maryland School of Medicine.

However, could it be that a cure for the common cold already exists--under our very noses, so to speak?

Well, according to an Anglo-Indian nutritionist who recently completed a trial involving twenty volunteers, relief from the common cold is already at hand, and has been known in various parts of the world for centuries.

According to the Daily Mail, renown nutritionist and creator of the ''world's healthiest meal,” described in the best-selling book Indian Superfood, Gurpareet Bains claims that fenugreek, a common ingredient in Indian cuisine, is a 'winter elixir' whose anti-viral properties not only alleviate common cold and flu symptoms but also prevent the conditions from starting in the first place.

Image credit

Conducted during a three-month winter period (from October through December), twenty volunteers 18 to 60 years of age, ten with cold and flu symptoms and ten without, were given half-a-teaspoon of fenugreek seeds in a “cold and flu-busting” curry, twice-a-week.  Results showed that those with cold symptoms reported immediate and sustained relief from running nose, cough, sneezing, sore throat, and fatigue, while those who were fit and healthy at the outset did not catch cold even once during the entire three months in winter.

Fenugreek (also called Greek hay and wild clover) has been used for centuries both as an herb and a spice, with a long cross-cultural history as natural home remedy for colds. Modern research has shown that fenugreek has what could be considered strong anti-viral properties which may indeed kill viruses that cause sniffles and sore throats, and help relieve symptoms.

Bains reported, "The results speak for themselves. Those with colds reported an immediate improvement, while the rest went three cold months without one. I couldn't call this a miracle ingredient--but it's not far off. Although some foods and spices can alleviate symptoms of the common cold, the case study results have shown that fenugreek is far more beneficial. In fact, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that fenugreek could be a winter fix-all elixir.”

While science proceeds down the clinical road to one or more cures for the common cold, perhaps there's no need to endure that next cold virus waiting on the horizon.  Give fenugreek a try and see if the cure has been there all along!  (If it has, pass the word along!)

References:

http://www.ayurvedictalk.com/fenugreek-the-apt-remedy-for-common-cold/1561/

http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-02-01/health/28379285_1_volunteers-symptoms-of-runny-nose-herb

http://www.themedguru.com/articles/doctors_getting_closer_to_cure_common_cold-86120596.html

http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-01-21/health/28368432_1_fenugreek-flu-symptoms-cold-afflicted-volunteers

Biology, A Guide to the Natural World, D. Krough

http://www.commoncold.org/undrstn3.htm

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