A Cure for the Common Cold? This Could Be the Breakthrough We've Needed for Decades

A Cure for the Common Cold? This Could Be the Breakthrough We've Needed for Decades
Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

The common cold may be pretty far down the disease totem pole, but that doesn't make it any more tolerable. Despite all the brilliant advances in modern medicine, nothing makes a worthless, incurably sniffly mess like a good, old-fashioned cold virus. But a team from McMaster University in Ontario thinks it has the key to saving you some sick days.

The study, published in the science journal Nature Immunology, identified a protein usually involved in metabolism that helps your immune system detect viruses in your body. It works by triggering an antiviral response — exactly what your body needs to do if it wants to fight off enemy viruses.

But knowing the mechanism to track down viruses is much bigger than alleviating common colds and herpes. This also affects oncoviruses, the viruses that cause some cancers.

"This identifies a critical component of the machinery that immune cells use to detect viruses," Brian Lichty, a professor of pathology and molecular medicine at McMaster University, told Mic in a phone call on Monday. "This means that, the better we understand this pathway, the better we can stimulate it."

In other words: Understanding this part of the immune system means knowing how to start vaccinating against viruses — and even cancer.

Source: Getty Images

The problem with cold viruses: Unlike the flu, which can be vaccinated against, there are hundreds of them going around. Even though they all act roughly the same way in your body, "curing" the cold means wiping out the whole list. So, if you vaccinated against an adenovirus, you could still get a rhinovirus or a coronavirus, and you'll still have the same cold-like symptoms.

Before this study, researchers had a vague idea of how a protein-coding gene in the body went into battle mode when a virus popped up, but they didn't really get why. Being able to understand how the immune system detects viral infection could be the first major step toward harnessing the antiviral response in a vaccine.

What's especially great about the finding is its implications for cancer research and tracking down a cure, meaning there could be a fair amount of money thrown at it. One of the main reasons we don't have a cure for the common cold is because the symptoms are mild (even if dealing with them is a pain in the ass). But if the industry starts throwing money at this technology in the name of cancer research, a common cold cure could ride on its coattails. It'd be like hitting two vastly different birds with one long-needed stone.

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Max Plenke

Max Plenke is a staff writer at Mic, where he covers breaking news, climate science, health and the future. His work has appeared in Esquire, GQ and Wallpaper. Send story tips to max@mic.com.

MORE FROM

German president signs legislation legalizing same-sex marriage

According to the German president's office, the bill will come into effect on Oct. 1 at the earliest.

‘New York Times’ interview sparks latest wave of GOP frustration with Trump

The President’s “disturbing” comments on Jeff Sessions and Special Counsel Robert Mueller drew sharp rebukes from his own party.

Jordan Edwards’ mother speaks out after Monday’s indictment of the officer who killed her son

“We will not allow Jordan’s death to be another statistic.”

Trump keeps saying he wants to “let Obamacare fail.” How would that happen?

There are several ways the administration could sabotage the law, experts said.

AIDS deaths are almost half of what they were in 2005 — but experts worry Trump could reverse that

Trump's proposed budget cuts could be detrimental for those living with HIV.

German president signs legislation legalizing same-sex marriage

According to the German president's office, the bill will come into effect on Oct. 1 at the earliest.

‘New York Times’ interview sparks latest wave of GOP frustration with Trump

The President’s “disturbing” comments on Jeff Sessions and Special Counsel Robert Mueller drew sharp rebukes from his own party.

Jordan Edwards’ mother speaks out after Monday’s indictment of the officer who killed her son

“We will not allow Jordan’s death to be another statistic.”

Trump keeps saying he wants to “let Obamacare fail.” How would that happen?

There are several ways the administration could sabotage the law, experts said.

AIDS deaths are almost half of what they were in 2005 — but experts worry Trump could reverse that

Trump's proposed budget cuts could be detrimental for those living with HIV.