The term ‘virus’ has become more synonymous with computers, hacking and technology beyond its archaic role as an infectious agent. Viruses are submicroscopic parasites that do not have the ability to replicate on their own. Once they infect a cell, they replicate inside. Most viruses either have a DNA or RNA and the virion (infectious particle) contains the nucleic acid (this might be single- or double-stranded) and an outer shell of protein. Virus cause illnesses and infections that are controlled or suppressed by our body’s immune system with the help of our white blood cells called lymphocytes. These WBCs can identify quite a number of viral proteins that provide antigens and which cause an anti-inflammatory response. But sadly, not all proteins are able to play the role of antigens for anti-viral immunity. There might be a number of viruses but there exists only a certain number of proteins involved in lymphocyte verification of virally infected cells. Such reduced number of proteins lead you to trouble wherein the virus might go unnoticed by the immune system. These are the ones that can damage cells, cause strong infections and lead to a prolonged period of illness. We also term them as ‘stealth’ viruses as they have the strong potential to evade effective immune recognition and most primarily because they have been deceiving the medical community until now making themselves inconspicuous.
What makes viruses special is that they have their own genetic material and reproduce only according to their gene instructions but by using the host cell for resources. This typically shows the strong nature of virus to fight against hereditary diseases or cancer. Everything lies in the gene of the virus. You remove its gene and the virus becomes a dummy in the literal sense unable to replicate or trigger diseases.
Not Alone All Along!
Scientists and researchers had assumed viruses to target humans and infect them individually as lone warriors. What we have been missing until now (and this ignorance has cost us tremendously) is that they can form packs of up to 40 viruses and envelop themselves with a fatty sphere that makes them completely invisible to our immune system. But how did something that had been blinded from our perception for centuries together suddenly show up?
When researchers at the US National Institutes of Health analyzed stool samples of patients infected by rotavirus or norovirus they were shocked beyond words when they came across this ‘groupism’ concept. Until now, viruses were believed to infect a cell, use this cell for replication and then burst out as individual viruses into the body. But, what took these researchers by storm is the fact that some of them were released as groups in spheres known as vesicles. These spheres act as armors to viruses and give them supreme power to attack humans. Firstly, these spheres prohibit/restrict the immune system from figuring out their presence acting as an invisible mask. Secondly, the spheres protect the viruses from destruction even from the most fluctuating/harsh environmental conditions such as stomach acid. Lastly, they enable enormous groups of these viruses to enter the target organs and create a dreaded scenario.
When the researchers infected animals with a set of viruses that either existed individually or grouped as stealth spheres, they found that those creatures that were infected with vesicles were infected faster and experienced prolific symptoms compared to the rest of the population. Rotavirus remains the main culprit for diarrhea in children in the world and norovirus is extremely infectious and spreads instantly through schools, public homes and even through cruise ships. The researchers feel that targeting these vesicles and preventing them from forming in the first place could get us a solution for treating norovirus or rotavirus.
Viruses causing common cold such as the poliovirus and rhinovirus can also cause stealth spheres. Stealth viruses have been found from the blood, cerebrospinal fluid, urine, throat swabs, breast milk, brain biopsies and tumor samples of patients suffering from allergic, neurological, psychiatric, autoimmune and neoplastic diseases. Every type of disease has a sub-list of commonly known infections and disorders attached to it and those details are available at www.firsteatright.com.
Switching Gears: Disadvantage to an Advantage
How about using these stealthy stealth viruses to treat cancer? That’s what scientists have been up to-redesigning adenovirus and using it for cancer therapy. In general, the adenovirus can easily be neutralized of its power by the immune system and eliminated by the liver. The researchers involved in the study rebuilt viruses to infect tumor cells using molecules that act as the bonding agent between the tumor cells and the virus. Next, the virus was blinded off the immune system using a protein coat. This required some smart action as the virus should not only be off-limits to the immune system but it also shouldn’t be flushed out of the liver as the liver normally removed unmodified adenovirus from the bloodstream. The viral gene redesigned using protein engineering techniques efficiently shuttles infected tumor cells in lab-tested animals.
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