A November 7 press report ("All-Purpose Drugs Are Being Tested," by Jeff Donn, The Associated Press) surveyed some of the work being done on finding drugs to treat many diseases -- the opposite of the traditional "magic bullet" approach of targeting only one particular bacterium or virus. Many of these "all purpose" potential drugs work by strengthening the immune system -- especially innate immunity, which is less well understood than the more familiar "adaptive" immunity involving T-cells (with which the body quickly produces a customized response to a particular invader, hopefully in time to cure the illness). Invertebrate animals survive and fight infection with only innate immunity.
Some of the approaches now being studied have long been used in traditional or "alternative" medical treatments. Others are far from ready for human test.
The Associated Press story mentions:
- Certain cytokines and peptidoglycans that may stimulate natural immunity. These approaches are being examined as possible defenses against bioterrorism, including anthrax or smallpox. If they work, they might have great impact on more routine medical practice as well.
- "Androstene steroids" to block the action of cortisone (according to the reporter's writeup, which we have not yet checked further).
- Ways to correct the immune-system damage caused by exposure to nuclear radiation. Success here might lead to ways of strengthening the immune system in HIV, malaria, and other diseases.
- A drug that acts like the popular supplement NAC (N-acetylcysteine) may help treat certain bacterial toxins, by reducing free-radical damage.
- Old remedies based on silver are now getting scientific study, after one consistently worked as well as tetracycline in laboratory tests against certain bacteria.
The new focus on bioterrorism will greatly stimulate research on immune-based treatments, neglected traditional medical approaches, and on completely new approaches as well. It will bring in new people and resources, and move with urgency and serious support -- no longer at the leisurely pace of academic medical journals, or under the commercial short-term focus on already-proven profit areas. Here is the urgency we have long sought but seldom found. The AIDS community should pay close attention.
ISSN # 1052-4207
Copyright 2001 by John S. James. Permission granted for noncommercial reproduction, provided that our address and phone number are included if more than short quotations are used.
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