Speaking at Munich Security Conference this year one of the topics that Bill Gates addressed was that of pandemic diseases. He expostulated on the fact that the world still isn’t prepared to handle a great pandemic disease like H1N1 and Ebola. Time and time again the rising death toll from such diseases shows us our mistake. And our generation is lucky enough to have not seen epidemics similar to Spanish flu or Black Death that killed millions of people within a few years. But history shows us that epidemics of such grand scale happen time and time again. We might be on the verge of facing one. And if we are then we still aren’t prepared.
Failure of Antibodies
Our body is naturally protected from viruses by antibodies. These antibodies are complex proteins that move through our bodies. They have empty pockets around them. Using these empty pockets the antibodies take hold of the sharp corners of the disease causing viruses and restrict them from entering our body. But the thing is these antibodies have only two empty pockets and they can’t take hold of viruses that have more than two sharp corners. And that is why our antibodies are unable to handle disease causing viruses like influenza, Ebola and AIDS as the virus of such diseases generally have three corners.
Even traditional vaccines fail to help the antibodies in such cases. As they can only help the antibodies in identifying the viruses, they can’t help them in tackling the viruses. Our antibodies might identify such virus but they won’t be able to stop them.
Development of Computer Developed Anti Viral Protein
Using computer software a few scientists at the University of Washington developed proteins that had three empty pockets. Those proteins are capable of holding the three cornered viruses like those of influenza. Our body cannot produce such proteins.
Tri-HSB.1C is one such computer generated protein. In an experiment, this protein was successful in holding a great variety of influenza viruses. It was given to mice and it provided them an all around protection against fatal diseases like lethal flu. It had a minor side effect of weight loss but nothing serious was noticed. Researches are still being done to tackle viruses like those of the Ebola category.
Despite all these efforts we are still quite far from witnessing the time when these computer developed proteins would help in saving human lives.
Advantage of Computer Generated Proteins
Can be used as diagnostic tools
Computer generated proteins are not only more capable than our antibodies, they are also more efficient. In experiments these proteins have detected the influenza viruses even when they were present at very low concentrations. So apart from curing us of incurable viral diseases these proteins will also help us in identifying them. They are capable of becoming our best diagnostic tools.
Doesn’t depend upon immunity of a person
Every human has different immunity. People with weaker immunity are more prone to viral infections. And the inherent strength of the antibodies present in a human body is directly dependent upon the overall immunity of a person. But computer generated proteins are free from this limitation. They will protect your body no matter what its immunity is.
Can be given anytime
A vaccine can only save a person from a disease if it is given to him much before he encounters the disease causing viruses. It cannot save the person once he has come in contact with the virus. A computer generated protein on the other hand can be given anytime. It can be given to a person who has already come in contact with a virus and also to a person who might come in contact with a virus. In both the cases it will prove effective.
Can tackle modified virus
Depending upon their external conditions viruses continuously modify themselves. Once a virus has modified itself then the antibodies present in our body would stop detecting it. To counter those modified viruses we have to develop new vaccines every year. Researches upon such vaccines cost a huge amount of time and money. But if we switch to computer generated proteins then they might help us in producing one universal vaccine for every disease.