Preventing the Common Cold, and a Cure Looming?

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CBS/iStockPhoto

(CBS) Two separate studies are bringing new hope that one day, perhaps even in the coming decade, humanity may defeat the common cold.

First, the easier to understand and implement advice from researchers at the Appalachian State University: Regular exercise can help prevent colds, and people who do stay fit tend to suffer less from cold symptoms.

Second, scientists at Cambridge University in England are claiming a major breakthrough in the understanding of humans' natural immune systems which may lead in the relatively near future to a cure for not only the common cold, but a host of other nasty winter viral infections.

Prevention: The Easy Part

Appalachian's Human Performance Laboratory has found that people who get moderate exercise at least five times weekly got fewer colds, and suffered symptoms for as much as 46 percent less time than their more lethargic compatriots.

"The most powerful weapon someone has during cold season is to go out, on a near-daily basis, and put in at least a 30-minute brisk walk," the Laboratory's director, Dr. David Nieman, told MyHealthNewsDaily.

According to the study, the value of exercise in fending off viruses comes from the long-held belief that it's just good to get your blood pumping; when you exercise, the body's natural immune cells get propelled at high velocity around the entire body, giving a temporary boost (about three hours) to the overall immune system. Thus, the more often you exercise, the more often your body is put on an elevated state of virus-watch. If you get off the sofa regularly, you're body becomes more of an impenetrable fortress to keep viruses at bay.

"It's the frequency, and getting the cells moving," said Nieman. "That's what provides the top-level protection of the body."

The research from Appalachian reinforces previous studies which linked exercise to lower incidence of colds and less severe infections.

A 2006 study published in The American Journal of Medicine found virtually the same result in post-menopausal women. Over the course of the study, the group which conducted only light exercise once a week was three times more likely to catch a cold than the group which exercised at least five times weekly.

Cure for the Common Cold? The Science

It's more complicated, and still looming on the horizon, but the big brains at Cambridge are sounding incredibly confident:

"It could lead to an effective treatment for the common cold," Dr. James Leo, of the famed university's Laboratory of Molecular Biology, told The Independent about his team's discovery that our body's cells are able to fight invading viruses even after they've been invaded.

Currently, medical text books state that once a virus breaks into a cell, that cell can be written-off as infected, a lost cause. Not so, say the Cambridge crew.

They've discovered that the body's natural antibodies, which attack viruses in the bloodstream and fluids surrounding cells, actually affix themselves to the viruses and piggyback into the cells being attacked.

Once inside the cell, the antibodies' presence triggers a reaction and prompts a protein called TRIM21 to unleash a powerful virus-eating mechanism which can dispatch with the offending bug in a matter of hours.

Up until now, immunologists believed antibodies only functioned outside our bodies' cells. The revelation opens up the possibility of a whole new type of drug to treat the cold virus, and even more harmful viruses like noravirus and rotavirus, which sicken thousands and even kill many children in the developing world every year.

The researchers are confident that drugs incorporating TRIM21 can be ready for lab trials in just 3 to 5 years.

"Antibodies are formidable molecular war machines; it now appears that they can continue to attack viruses within cells," Sir Greg Winter, who is deputy at the lab where the research took place, told The Independent. "This research is not only a leap in our understanding of how and where antibodies work, but more generally in our understanding of immunity and infection."


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  • Tucker Reals

    Tucker Reals is the CBSNews.com foreign editor, based at the CBS News London bureau.

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