The first mouse to catch a cold has given British scientists fresh hope that they could finally find a cure for coughs and sneezes, as well as more serious conditions like asthma, they said Monday.

Scientists at Imperial College London created a genetically engineered mouse susceptible to the virus causing most colds, which normally only infects humans and chimpanzees.

The breakthrough means that it should now be easier to test new cold remedies as well as treatments for other respiratory conditions like asthma and bronchitis, potentially speeding up the discovery of cures.

The research, led by Professor Sebastian Johnston, was published in the journal Nature Medicine.

"These mouse models should provide a major boost to research efforts to develop new treatments for the common cold as well as for more potentially fatal illnesses such as acute attacks of asthma and of COPD (constructive obstructive pulmonary disorder, such as chronic bronchitis)," Johnston said.

The discovery was welcomed by Leszek Borysiewicz, chief executive of Britain's Medical Research Council, which funded the study.

He said the research would "open up new paths to finding treatments which have been delayed for many years and provides us with the opportunities for further breakthroughs in the future".

Rhinoviruses, which cause most colds, were discovered 50 years ago but studying them without being able to experiment on mice has proved difficult.

The Common Cold Unit started work in Britain in 1946 to find a cure for the sniffles through experiments on human volunteers but it was disbanded in 1989 after failing to crack the problem.

Most colds are triggered when rhinoviruses latch on to a receptor molecule found on the surface of cells.

In mice, the receptor is slightly different to the version in humans so the viruses are unable to bind with it.

But in this case, the Imperial College scientists modified the mouse receptor to make it more like the human one, meaning the rodent could catch a cold.

LONDON, Feb 4, 2008 (AFP)


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