The nation has all but accepted that we're liable to catch a cold at some point between November and February. It's part and parcel of the British winter, like mince pies and Boxing Day. However, that might be about to change if the findings from an experimental US study are anything to go by.
The cure for the common cold has long eluded medical boffins, mostly because of the complexities surrounding the root cause: rhinoviruses. There are around 160 different types, and they mutate so easily that trying to neutralise them with specific medicine is an impossible undertaking.
Rather than focusing on individual strains, a team of scientists from Stanford University and the University of California explored ‘host-directed therapy’ – essentially, making our bodies inhospitable to viruses – and published their findings in the journal Nature Microbiology.
Viruses spread by infecting our cells and commandeering the contents. However, when the team ‘switched off’ a specific protein (called methyltransferase SETD3) in mice and human lung cells using gene-editing, this process was blocked – the viruses were unable to replicate.
Gene-editing human cells in a lab is one thing, but testing the experiment on real people is way more complicated. At the moment, there are no human trials lined up, but researchers hope to find a drug that temporarily suppresses the protein.
“We have identified a fantastic target that all enteroviruses and rhinoviruses require and depend on. Take that away and the virus really has no chance,” associate professor Jan Carette, from Stanford, told the BBC. “This is a really good first step – the second step is to have a chemical that mimics this genetic deletion. I think development can go relatively quickly.”
Sounds promising. Soon, with any luck, the common cold will be nothing more than a distant memory. Sorry virus – it’s not you, it’s me.