Magazine article Insight on the News

NASA, Pharmaceuticals Hope to Conquer Virus

Magazine article Insight on the News

NASA, Pharmaceuticals Hope to Conquer Virus

Article excerpt

A little-known but deadly virus attacks 4 million children a year in the United States alone. America's space agency has teamed with private industry to search for a cure miles above Earth.

The weightlessness of space has helped produce the first major breakthrough in treating a virus that attacks millions of children every year. Researchers from NASA and two private companies have determined part of the atomic structure of an antibody for respiratory syncitial virus, or RSV, which causes pneumonia and severe upper-respiratory infections. Antibodies, part of the body's immune system, work by recognizing and deactivating toxins.

"The virus is ubiquitous," says Glen Pilkington, the researcher at Intracel Corp. in Issaquah, Wash. who discovered the antibody. "It only becomes a problem for infants and young children because their immune systems are not fully developed. Also [at risk are] adults who are taking immuno-depressive drugs, or who have HIV."

According to the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine in Washington, nearly 4 million children age 1 to 5 are infected every year in the United States by the virus. Approximately 100,000 of these children require hospitalization; 4,000 die.

"Four out of six patients on the floor are babies with RSV," says Jaslyn Black, a pediatric nurse at MacNeal Hospital in Berwyn, a suburb of Chicago. "Common symptoms are an initial fever of 101 degrees or more, coughing, wheezing and severe congestion. With bad cases, their lips turn blue from lack of oxygen. …

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