Communion Of Dreams

August 11, 2011, 11:05 am
Filed under: Flu, MetaFilter, Pandemic, Predictions, Preparedness, Science, Science Fiction, Writing stuff

Interesting. Feels like 1928 must have felt like:

Broad-Spectrum Antiviral Therapeutics

Currently there are relatively few antiviral therapeutics, and most which do exist are highly pathogen-specific or have other disadvantages. We have developed a new broad-spectrum antiviral approach, dubbed Double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) Activated Caspase Oligomerizer (DRACO) that selectively induces apoptosis in cells containing viral dsRNA, rapidly killing infected cells without harming uninfected cells. We have created DRACOs and shown that they are nontoxic in 11 mammalian cell types and effective against 15 different viruses, including dengue flavivirus, Amapari and Tacaribe arenaviruses, Guama bunyavirus, and H1N1 influenza. We have also demonstrated that DRACOs can rescue mice challenged with H1N1 influenza. DRACOs have the potential to be effective therapeutics or prophylactics for numerous clinical and priority viruses, due to the broad-spectrum sensitivity of the dsRNA detection domain, the potent activity of the apoptosis induction domain, and the novel direct linkage between the two which viruses have never encountered.

[Spoilers – not that that really matters.]

Communion of Dreams (oh, yeah, that novel that I have pretty much forgotten about for most of this year) is set in a post-pandemic world in which a virulent flu has devastated human populations globally. In the novel’s history that pandemic happened in 2012, just when the first wide-spectrum anti-viral treatments had started to become available.

Of course, I’m not a scientist of any stripe, and my knowledge of biology is basic. But I know a bit about invention and innovation, and how just because there is a major discovery that doesn’t mean that a functional cure has been found. In constructing the back story for CoD, I wanted to have one of those tragic moments in history where a fundamental breakthrough comes just a *little* too late to prevent a major catastrophe – it takes time, after all, for such a discovery to be fully understood and implemented. Just think of how many people died of bacterial infections between Fleming’s initial discovery of penicillin in 1928 and the development of mass production of penicillin-derived medical treatments towards the end of WWII.

I wanted the history of the book to work that way, because I wanted to have a parallel structure at the climax of the book where a similar breakthrough is made regarding a new threat, but having the tension of knowing that it once again might be too late to prevent another pandemic (just as some other things which are discovered might not save the main characters). In other words, it was just a plot device.

Let’s hope that this is one time when my predictions don’t come true.

Jim Downey

(Via MeFi and elsewhere.)

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