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Dealing with infectious agents - Journal of Omnifarious

Nov. 17th, 2008

08:42 pm - Dealing with infectious agents

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It occurs to me that all approaches we have to dealing with infectious agents involve destroying the agents. Why don't we ever examine methods of tranforming them into either symbionts or at least relatively harmless parasites.

For example, I'm reading these SciAm articles about HIV. The real problem appears to be that viral replication kills off immune system cells. What if we investigated therapies that were focused on keeping infected cells alive?

Eventually I suspect the immune system would then find its own way to eliminate the virus, or at least control replication.

Anyway, it's just a thought. We are so focused on classifying things as foriegn or enemy that we neglect to look for ways to co-opt 'bad' behavior (like infecting cells) and/or encourage good behavior (like keaving them functional).

Current Mood: [mood icon] contemplative


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Date:November 18th, 2008 06:29 am (UTC)
Watch the movie "Proof of Life" with Harry Connick Jr. It's about a cancer treatment that did much of what you describe.
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Date:November 18th, 2008 06:47 am (UTC)
I'm sure there is some research taking place along those lines, but one of the dangers with this approach (I suppose) is that giving someone what's essentially a mutagen would have a serious chance of causing cancer, unless the mutagen were *vvery* specific, and even then, it's quite possible that some people could have a mutation that makes some of their proteins slightly deformed, and likely to be changed by the agent in question.

(look up the relationship of Coxsackie virus and type 1 diabetes to illustrate this sort of thing in a slightly different context)
The need for the agent to be specific might mean that a lot of time would need to be spent on each organism that needs to be wiped out, and a whole bunch of resistant strains as well, unless there's some part of the invader's protein coat that doesn't change shape, that could be targeted.

There's also a potential issue with animal testing; I think that animal testing would probably give a lot less data than human testing in this case, but well, ethics and stuff :)

So it's easy for me to understand why antibiotics would be a much more immediate solution; just killing things tends to be simpler than changing them, even if there are more advantages to the latter approach.

Disclaimer: I haven't read or thought a whole lot about rational drug design, let alone something like what you propose, in about 10 years, i.e. grad school.
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Date:November 18th, 2008 01:08 pm (UTC)
Not really actually. Many therapies are designed to deny entry to the cell, rather than destroy the infectious agent. About a third of the antibiotics out there are "static" instead of "cidal"; they don't kill the bacteria, just keep it from reproducing while your body does it's thing. Many vaccines ARE adapted organisms that introduce your immune system to the idea of the organism with a much lower virility. AND some vaccines are actually live pox-virus chimeras.
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Date:November 18th, 2008 03:29 pm (UTC)



And most of the successful HIV treatments also prevent replication or deny entry to a host cell. And that's sort of what I'm talking about. But I'm more talking about therapies that are designed to render the infectious agent harmless.

For example, it turns out that HIV frequently doesn't kill macrophages. That was seen almost as a problem, since the macrophages could then become reservoirs. But, what if it didn't kill memory or helper T cells either? Would the virus even be able to cause AIDS then? Why not try to do something to make memory and helper T cells survive infection?

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