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Why not SCRAM for Virus?

  1. Jan 8, 2016 #1
    The (not so evil) plan here to fight against viral infarction and possibly make virus extinct.


    Why? Because we can.
    Known Epidemic and NOD(number of deaths)

    The seasonal flu going around in Sydney this year (2015) was bad. A nasty RSV Type-B virus infection send my 6 month old to Children's Hospital ICU with bronchiolitis and my 2 year old to children's ward in the same week. Quite shaken with this experience, I got thinking about virus and what they are. My educational background is in Information technology. So I am neither a expert on micro biology nor of physics. I started to read up on virus on popular Internet resources wikipedia, youtube, forums, edu publications.

    What I discovered is pretty strange. Unlike bacteria, It is not clear whether virus are alive. scientific community calls them virus particle. They are tiny biological hacking bots that break into a cells. Viruses does that using a very similar type of attack to our own very popular "brute force dictionary attack" but in biological form with protein matching. Once inside it dissolve itself in a bid to get itself replicated in large number using the compromised cells protein replicating factory. When the compromised cell copies the virus enough times that it has no more room inside it to house them, it explodes and ejects those virus copies. Those copies then hacks other cells and the process repeats. To my untrained eye this process of viral growth pattern looked uncannily similar to nuclear fission chain reaction except that it happens is in a biological form. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viral_phylodynamics)

    The obvious question that comes into mind is that, we already know how to control a given chain reaction in nuclear form since 1950s (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scram). So why are we not applying that knowledge to biologically control virus infection reaction?

    1950s we learn to control nuclear fission chain reaction using control substance aka control rods aka SCRAM. Usually made of boron or similar property element that can absorb or inhibit ejected neutrons (http://www.nuclear-power.net/nuclear-power-plant/control-rods). Capture enough neutron will slows down the chain reaction or could even stop it. Same could be true at biological level. If we put a control substance in the middle of a viral chain reaction to inhibit / absorb ejected virus copies, we may be able to slowdown the infection chain reaction enough to stop it.

    Question that stands then, is what are such control substance that can be applied? In biological level we might not have control substance but we can create control agents that serves similar goals. We can attempt to create such control agent by genetically altering bacteria. We have been genetically altering bacteria since 1970s. See how well we have manage to genetically alter bacteria. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetically_modified_bacteria). We genetically alter a harmless bacteria to contain the common protein receptors of any or many target virus. We genetically alter the bacteria to either not contain a protein coping mechanism or disable it. Effectively alter the bacteria in a manner that it allow the virus to easily infect itself but doesn't actually copies the virus. Once the virus inject itself into the bacteria, it devolve itself like it does in a normal infection hoping to get copied. The altered bacteria absorb numerous viruses and eventually dies.

    In a best case scenario, If we could deploy this modified bacteria into a infected subject without harming the subject, we can effectively reduce the viral growth hence reducing the infection. Hopefully subjects own immune system or repeated use to the method can eradicate the virus completely.

    If however if no suitable safe method is found to deploy the modified bacteria to the infected host, we could always use it in a fashion that we use fire extinguisher. We use a suitable method to deposit the modified bacteria in the environment surrounding a infected subject, effectively stopping or reducing a epidemics like Ebola a localize inaction.

    At this point I was looking to see if there were similar work being done anywhere using google search. Not finding anything remotely similar to this idea, I though of applying for a patent. As a process of applying for patent I was searching through existing patent and found someone already have patented a very similar idea in 1995. http://www.google.com/patents/US5733540.

    However what I could not find is whether any micro biological research have peruse a similar idea to develop a control agent that can stop viral pandemics or viral infection in hosts.
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2016
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 9, 2016 #2


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    Science Advisor

    A few major problems
    1) Bacteria are very different than human cells and bacterial viruses are very different than human viruses. Most human viruses rely on cellular machinery (the endocytotic machinery) to get into the cell that is not present in bacteria. It is not clear how you could get bacteria to internalize human viruses (most bacterial viruses don't actually enter inside of the bacteria themselves).

    2) Getting bacteria to correctly express the correct receptors for the viruses is not straightforward. First, the correct set of receptors and co-receptors is not known or well understood for some viruses. Second, it can be difficult to get bacteria to correctly synthesize and fold the proteins. Third, many of these receptors are chemically modified (e.g. they get sugars attached and these sugars are very important for viral entry, for example, in the case of sialic acid and influenza) and the enzymes that perform these reactions are not normally present in bacteria.

    3) Bacterial infections are not much better than viral infections. Applying large quantities of bacteria (you would likely need a lot to soak up most viral particles) to sick patients would risk creating a massive bacterial infection that could be even worse than the original viral infection.

    4) The immune system will recognize and attack bacteria, so they could not be used in the same patient twice.

    5) If you're injecting the patient with something, there are already better alternatives. For example, directly injecting the patient with antibodies against the virus (e.g. as in the case of some experimental Ebola treatments). Perhaps in the future, the patients' own T-cells could be genetically modified to fight specific infections (as is done in some experimental cancer immunotherapy trials).
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2016
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