Answering Alumni Questions | Why can’t we find a cure for the common cold?

(playful music) – My name’s Matthew Miller. I’m an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biochemistry
and Biomedical Sciences and also a member of the
Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research and the McMaster
Immunology Research Center. So the question I’m
here to answer today is, why we can’t find a cure
for the common cold. Which is a very good question actually because as most people know we
have vaccines that protect us against lots of different
viruses and we have antibiotics which help to cure us
from bacterial infections. And so the answer to this
is really not obvious or intuitive, I don’t think. The trick with the common cold
that makes it so difficult to cure is that the virus that
we most typically associate with causing the common cold,
which is called rhinovirus, is actually not just one
virus but a huge family of very diverse viruses
that sort of co-circulate or exist together in
nature causing infections all of the time. And there’s over 100
members of this family. So the ideal way to cure
the common cold would be to design a vaccine which would
protect us from getting it. The problem is that that
vaccine would have to protect us against not one virus,
but 100 different viruses. And that’s where the real challenge lies. So there are sort of two
ways that one might approach developing a vaccine to do that. One way would be to try to incorporate all of those 100 viruses in the vaccine. But as you can imagine,
that’s fairly impractical. Another way of doing this
though would be to look for areas that are similar
amongst all of those 100 viruses. Our immune system essentially
works by recognizing shapes. And so if we can find
the shape that’s the same among all of those viruses, then we might be able to develop a vaccine which would protect us
from all of them at once.

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