Already hailed as a wonder drug, the humble aspirin can also combat common viruses, reveals research carried out by Thomas Shenk and his team at Princeton University in New Jersey, USA. The researchers have found that close relatives of aspirin can block common viruses known as the human cytomegaloviruses (CMV), which are members of the family that causes cold sores and herpes infections. CMV, present in one tenth of the population, can cause hearing problems in babies born to infected mothers and kill patients with reduced immunity, such as those suffering from AIDS. Shenk and his colleagues have shown that aspirin-like drugs can stop CMV from replicating in infected cells. The drugs do this by blocking production of cyclooxygenase 2, an enzyme better known as COX-2. The enzyme helps in the making of prostaglandin E2, a chemical that triggers fever and inflammation. But prostaglandin E2 can be commandeered by viruses to help them multiply. Shenk showed that fibroblasts (taken from human foreskins) infected with CMV made 50 times more prostaglandin E2 than normal. But the cells stopped making E2 as soon as they were exposed to the aspirin-like drugs. At the same time, virus production by the cells dropped 100-fold (www.newscientist.com, February 28, 2002). cmv
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