Researchers in the UK suggest that they've made a discovery that could change the way illnesses like the common cold and the flu are treated, according to BBC News. In an advance online publication in PNAS this week, the team purports to show that antibodies can pass into cells and fight viruses from within, as opposed to only blocking viruses outside of the cell as was previously thought. Once inside the cells, antibodies trigger a response led by the protein TRIM21, which sends the virus to the cell's waste-disposal system, the BBC reports, adding that the researchers hope their discovery will lead to the development of new antiviral drugs.
But some are skeptical about all the hype. In the Pipeline's Derek Lowe says this story falls into the "interesting discovery, confused reporting" category, and that although the finding is an interesting one, it's going to be much harder to cure viral infections than some reports allege. Up until now, TRIM21's role in virus disposal was unknown, though it's something Lowe calls "very much worth knowing." He says that the some of the press coverage fails to mention that this is not a new trick cells have just learned, and that, despite this conserved defense mechanism, viral epidemics still occur. In addition, turning TRIM21 into a therapy raises some questions, he says. For one thing, giving the protein orally would be useless as most proteins that enter the gut are digested, according to Lowe. The other problem would be getting the TRIM21 complex inside the cell — where it actually works. It could be tough to "rev up this pathway," Lowe says. In any event, Lowe says he's "happy" to see work being done on intracellular processes.