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Tuesday, April 11th, 2006

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A Cure for the Common Cold?
A new device will treat viral infections by pulling the virus particles from the bloodstream:
Infected blood flows into the Hemopurifier through a tube extending from one artery.
The toxin filters work like a colander, allowing small viruses through but not large red and white blood cells. The filter, which is made from a biocompatible plastic called polysulfone, is coated with special plant-derived antibodies that hold fast to the pathogens, ensuring that they don’t reenter the bloodstream.
This probably can't cure colds yet, or even in the next version or two of the product. It can't catch viruses once they're in a cell, and the next generation will infect more since they'll have plenty of chances to find new cells before being dragged into the filter. But if it can get 90% of each generation that makes the immune system's work much easier. It sounds like the filter has to have a particular trapping chemical for each type of virus. If they're working on smallpox and Ebola now it'll probably be a long, long time until they get to something as minor as colds.

The other problem is how hard this is going to be to use. It's the same basic concept as kidney dialysis--taking blood outside the body to clean it. Opening a couple of holes in your veins is probably not going to be a home procedure for typical patients. The manufacturer is talking about a "field" version but I'd expect that to still need someone trained to make the connections.

I think it may get used to cure colds in hospital patients. Someone recovering from injuries or cancer is vulnerable to illness and treating it aggressively could save lives. Having a home version of this may have to wait until it's small enough to be an implant--something you have below the skin like a pacemaker, acting automatically. For now I'll stick to cough drops.

The biggest impact may be if this technique can treat currently incurable diseases. AIDS and herpes are affecting a lot of people who just have to live with it as best they can. Going after the viruses directly might let them beat the bugs after all. (Aha, The manufacturer is already looking at the AIDS application.) If this succeeds it could make for a whole new way to treat disease.

Current Mood: excited

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