Viruses have always been and always will be.

In last week’s column I said that viruses are a part of the human race. It makes us – us. A small percentage of our DNA is made up of historical viruses that have allowed us to evolve and are appropriately called indigenous retroviruses. Through nanotechnology and bioengineering, scientists have found a way to treat all viruses in the human body universally. Remember, this is actually a small world and fear is what makes it bigger.

Have you ever wondered why doctors give out different flu vaccines every year? It is because viruses are vastly different from one another, and even the same strain of a virus can mutate and change. So the medical researchers have to scramble to come up with a new vaccine for every new stain.

A group of researchers at IBM and the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore sought to understand what makes all viruses alike. Using that knowledge, they’ve come up with a macromolecule that may have the potential to treat multiple types of viruses and prevent them from infecting us. The work was published recently in the journal Macromolecules.

Historically, scientists have focused on the viruses’ RNA and DNA.  But because they change from virus to virus and also mutate, it’s very difficult to target them successfully. Instead, the researchers focused on glycoproteins, which sit on the outside of all viruses and attach to cells in the body, allowing the viruses to do their dirty work by infecting cells and making us sick. All viruses are similar in how they work on our body cells.

The researchers tested out this treatment in the lab on several viruses, including Ebola but not Zika yet, and they found that the molecule did work as they thought it would and reduced the number of viruses in the body. It demonstrated a significant reduction in infection after incubating viruses or cells with the antiviral polymers. And even more importantly, it prevented the virus from infecting immune cells. Disorders of the immune system can result in autoimmune diseases, inflammatory diseases and cancer, according to the NIH.

Immune cells are part of our natural body defense system against viruses and indirectly cancer. When functioning properly, the immune system identifies a variety of threats, including viruses, bacteria and parasites, and distinguishes them from the body’s own healthy tissue. Everyone should know about white blood cells because they play a large role in defending the body against disease, according to the Mayo Clinic.

One of the first thoughts I had was will this research work directly on cancer cells and the answer turned out to be – No. Cancer is not thought to be a virus or bacteria, but can be caused by them. Mutated cells that have lost the ability to self destruct are cancer. The body doesn’t recognize those mutated cells as a foreign invader, so growth goes unchecked. Cancer cells have to be either cut out of the body via surgery or bombarded with radioactive isotopes. Sometimes there is unexplained divine intervention and it just goes away.

Okay, now for the political side of this article. President Obama has asked Congress for $1.9B to fight the zika virus and the Senate has countered with $1.1B. However, the House only authorized $660M and half of that was left over from the Ebola funding. My question is and always has been; “how is this money going to be spent?” As we all know, government has a bad credit rating because it is so wasteful with our tax dollars.

Currently only three states (FL, TX, HI) and Puerto Rico have had some zika outbreaks. At least the President was correct when he said that the zika virus is not something we have to panic about. However, listening to the news media, most people would not get that same message because as always, fear is the emotion that sells news.

A good example of that news fear was the West Nile virus. There are no medications to treat or vaccines to prevent WNV infection. Fortunately, most people infected with WNV will have no symptoms. About 1 in 5 people who are infected will develop a fever with other symptoms. Less than 1% of infected people develop a serious, sometimes fatal, neurologic illness. What is 1% of one occurrence here in New Mexico last year?

This research project and the treatment still have a ways to go before it could be used as a disinfectant or even as a potential pill that we could take to prevent and treat viral infections. From my perspective: hooray for nanotechnology! Have you invested IBM yet? What does IBM have to do with biochemistry research anyway?

IBM noticed that biologists needed microprocessors as much as microscopes. Back in 2001, IBM used $100 million to start a division that sells supercomputers, software and services to biotechnology and drug companies. Within a year this life sciences division had some success; pulling into second place behind Compaq in the supercomputer realm. Remember Compaq, that company that Carly Fiorina bought as HP’s Chief Executive, and eventually got her fired.

So what if we could eliminate all virus carrying mosquitoes through Generic Modified Organism (GMO)? After all, they are the deadliest animal family in the world. First, you would have to get past the anti-GMO lobby and then you have to ask the big question: If it saves a million lives would it be worth it? Here’s something else to think about: What ever happened to those Africanized honey bees, or killer bees? You know – the half-breeds that also came up from Brazil. Be very careful when you mess with Mother Nature.

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