Here’s some good news as we head into cold and flu season: Scientists may have found the cure for the common cold.
“Our grandmas have always been asking us, ‘If you’re so smart, why haven’t you come up with a cure for the common cold?” one of the study’s co-authors, Jan Carette, PhD, associate professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford University School of Medicine, said in a statement.
No offense to Grandma, but there’s a reason finding a cure for the common cold, which affects millions of Americans each year, has been so elusive. There isn’t just one virus that’s behind the infection. Many different respiratory viruses can bring on the common cold, but most are caused by rhinovirus infections. There are approximately 160 known types of rhinovirus, which, as Stanford noted in a news release, explains why getting a cold doesn’t make you immune to picking up another one a month later.
What’s more, rhinoviruses are tricky: They’re prone to mutations, which make them more likely to be drug-resistant and help them “evade the immune surveillance brought about by previous exposure or a vaccine,” according to Stanford.
However, researchers at Stanford and the University of California, San Francisco may have found a way to stop many of these viruses, including rhinoviruses, in their tracks. In the new study published in the journal Nature Microbiology, Carette and his fellow researchers found a certain protein that’s key to the viruses being able to replicate, which allows the cold to flourish. The researchers disabled this protein in human lung cells in culture, as well as in mice, and found that it stopped the viruses from replicating, preventing infection.
“We have identified a single human protein that helps the common cold virus to replicate and spread,” Carette tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Inactivating this protein could be a new strategy to prevent colds.”
He adds: “Most cases of the common cold are caused by rhinoviruses. There are more than 150 types of this virus. A typical vaccine like the influenza vaccine contains at most four types, so making it for all 150 strains would be extremely challenging. Our approach is different because we only have to target this one human protein that all of these different types depend on to make us sick.”
Carette notes that this study is just the beginning. “This is still experimental,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “and for it to have a therapeutic application in humans, it is important to develop a drug targeting this protein.”
While more research is needed, there are things you can do in the meantime to ward off colds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Wash your hands with soap and water often; don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands; and avoid close contact with anyone who is sick.
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