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Ho hum. Another breakthrough

August 11, 2011 - Harry Eagar
I was somewhat surprised a couple of weeks ago that the report that rinderpest had been eradicated got so little attention. (I followed a Little Green Footballs tip to The New York Times; most papers seemed to ignore it. People don't get rinderpest, which perhaps made it seem less marvelous than it was.)

Tomorrow's Maui News will have a front page story about a new treatment that gives killer T-cells a kind of laser-sighting specificity against rogue leukemia cells. Good news, and maybe for more kinds of cancer than just leukemia.

But almost simultaneously, MIT Lincoln Laboratory (which used to have a branch on Maui) issued a press statement about a technique called DRACO that apparently can kill off ANY virus. At least, so far it has had complete success against 15 viruses, of several different types.

It looks like a general assault, too, since it operates by interfering with a special RNA step that is common to all virus replication. A real magic bullet.

Well, sometimes these things look good at first but have serious problems that turn up only with greater experience. And sometimes, a treatment works almost perfectly.

A few comments:

1. When I was in Iowa, decades ago, there was a concerted effort at the state university to do away with experimental medicine. Everything was to be replaced with computer simulation. Really.

Good thing that idea didn't catch on.

2. Fundamental research into any kind of physical process, if it succeeds, will pay off sooner or later. So you want to pursue lots of fundamental research. The Republican and businesslike approach to direct effort to "practical" research is impractical.

3. If you follow the link to the Lincoln Lab report, all the way to the bottom, you will find that this research was supported in a big way by the Defense Department. People, in any political party, who are hell bent on reducing government expenditures, willynilly, might want to think about that.


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