I am Legend. Will Smith plays a brilliant scientist who ‘cures’ the world. Only for everyone to degenerate into zombies. Or something.
Resident Evil. Umbrella Corporation and the t-virus. Zombies. First-person shooter.
You’ve heard all the cliches. Art imitates life. Fact is stranger than fiction.While we haven’t yet raised the dead or even killed people to raise them as zombies, we certainly are creating funky new ways to cure, well, everything.
SEED Magazine has this cool article on the use of a relatively old medical technique to develop new cures for some very blue-chip diseases like malaria and anthrax.
Kary Mullis, a self-proclaimed non-specialist, won the Nobel Prize for developing the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a technique that allows researchers to quickly and cheaply make many copies of single strands of DNA. For the past decade Mullis has been using PCR to create new types of drugs that could soon provide a cure for everything from malaria to anthrax.
What makes this technique so ‘special’ is the fact that it improves the ability of the body itself to ‘target’ infections. Basically giving the body an upgraded sniper scope:
My work with PCR allowed for the invention by Craig Tuerk of nucleic aptamers, which are tiny binding molecules that can be designed to attach themselves to harmful bacteria. However, instead of attaching a poison to the other end of the aptamer—as the silver-bullet strategy would call for—I put something on there that is a target for our immune system, a chemical compound with which the immune system is already familiar and to which it is very strongly immune. What you end up with is a drug that will drag this thing to which you are highly immune over to some bacteria you don’t want in your body. And your immune system will attack and kill it.
And, apparently, it works:
Yes, we cured anthrax in mice. If you infect a mouse with anthrax and then wait 24 hours and treat it with a penicillin-type drug, you get about a 40 percent survival rate. But using our drug you get a 100 percent survival rate. Of course, it is unlikely that you are going to get anthrax, but that is sort of a model system.
In mice at least.
This technique puts ‘something’ that the body’s immune system is already ‘very strongly immune’. While I am not normally one to frown on cutting-edge science, this particular case seems to have eaten at the ‘too good to be true’ buffet. What especially is eyebrow-raising is that the article claims this is a methodology that can be applied to ‘any infectious disease’.
If it as brilliantly successful at stopping diseases at it promises, and it garners the healthy media hype that will result, I fear for the corners that will be cut in its next ‘deployment’. Let’s hope it does not come to that, and it really is a panacea.