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maggi90w1
07-03-2012, 08:40 PM
Ok guys, I feel silly asking this question, studying medicine and all, but I need your help with a sci fi project.
One important plot point is a virus and I want this virus to be as believable as possible.
Here is what I need for story reasons:
- originally the virus was used as a vector for a skin rejuvenating DNA-Sequence
- it's airborne
- the infections starts with flu-like symptoms that last about a week
- after that the virus starts to attack your organs and causes skin lesions and multi-organ failure in a matter of 8-12 weeks
- there is no cure, but there is (expensive) medicine that slows down the progress and clone organs to replace damaged tissue

So I need help with:
1. How the virus was supposed to work? I think it was supposed to add this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telomerase to epithelial cells. Would this work in theory?
2. Would this virus really cause the symptoms I need? My feeling tells me that it would be more likely to cause cancer then necrosis, but maybe the necrotic tissue is a result of the immune reaction?
3. What would the "no-cure-but-slows-it-down"-drug look like? Immunosupressive ?
4. My main character got infected but survived. What's going on in his body?

Maybe I'm over thinking it, but it would be super embarrassing to get the virus wrong (plus: I hate the "this is not how science works" moments science fiction novels), so I want to make sure this makes sense.

waylander
07-03-2012, 10:09 PM
If the drug that slows the progression is an immunosupressant then that would figure. It treats the symptom (immune system attacking healthy tissue), but does nothing about the viral infection.

boron
07-04-2012, 12:54 AM
2. Viruses from the Herpes family may initially cause influenza-like symptoms followed by skin rash and, as a complication, may spread to internal organs and cause pneumonia or encephalitis, for example.

So, you can make a research about Chickenpox (http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/chickenpox/Pages/Introduction.aspx#close) (or here (http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1131785-overview)) and herpetic encephalitis (http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1165183-overview).

3. Pretty much all anti-viral drugs used today are "no-cure-slows-it-down," such as acyclovir for Herpes viruses and drugs to treat AIDS. These drugs attack viruses directly.

4. It is inflammation that occurs in pneumonia or meningitis. Inflammation means build up of inflammatory cells in a certain organ or tissue what may result in fluid leaking from the vessels causing swelling (edema) of the organ, resulting in an impaired function (difficult breathing in pneumonia, coma in encephalitis). Inflammation, if severe enough, may cause necrosis, which may heal with less or more scar tissue and consequently less or more permanent damage of certain organs.

espresso5
07-04-2012, 04:51 AM
1. Chromosomes naturally have telomeres, and younger cells and stem cells have telomerase. Telomeres, in addition to allowing full replication of DNA and keeping the chromosome ends from fusing together, serve as an expiration date for the cell. Adding telomerase might lengthen the number of times a cell can divide and perhaps result in a skin antiaging capacity, but immortalizing the cell can also lead to cancer.
2. Using a virus as a vector is nothing new, and some people have had severe reactions up to and including death, which led to a massive reduction in gene therapy in the nineties, so initial flu like symptoms are not out of the realm of possibility. However, if the virus is just vector and it's not capable of replication, then it's a stretch to go from adding a transcript or cDNA for telomerase to skin lesions and organ failure.
3. I don't think the pathogenesis of this virus is realistic unless the virus is replicating in the cells, but the last thing you want is to give someone infected with a virus immunosupression drugs, unless they are suffering from some sort of autoimmune reaction.
4. Standard immune response. Inflammation and fever followed by specific immune response (humoral immune response and cell mediated immune response).

jaksen
07-04-2012, 05:00 AM
Have the virus attack with a vengeance, with few survivors.

Then when it returns a year or so later, it's in a milder form - a childhood disease perhaps. I've read that some 'mild' childhood diseases were originally more lethal to the population in general. I don't know where I read that, though.

As for surviving it, he goes through hell but struggles through. There were survivors of smallpox and I read about a nurse who survived ebola.

maggi90w1
07-04-2012, 11:15 AM
However, if the virus is just vector and it's not capable of replication, then it's a stretch to go from adding a transcript or cDNA for telomerase to skin lesions and organ failure.
The original virus was designed to be a telomerase vector. Obviously something went wrong. I was thinking a lab accident (or a staged accident) where the virus got in contact with with a flu virus?


unless they are suffering from some sort of autoimmune reaction.
That's what I had in mind.

Unimportant
07-05-2012, 12:15 AM
Ok guys, I feel silly asking this question, studying medicine and all, but I need your help with a sci fi project.
One important plot point is a virus and I want this virus to be as believable as possible.
Here is what I need for story reasons:
- originally the virus was used as a vector for a skin rejuvenating DNA-Sequence
- it's airborne
- the infections starts with flu-like symptoms that last about a week
- after that the virus starts to attack your organs and causes skin lesions and multi-organ failure in a matter of 8-12 weeks
- there is no cure, but there is (expensive) medicine that slows down the progress and clone organs to replace damaged tissue

So I need help with:
1. How the virus was supposed to work? I think it was supposed to add this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telomerase to epithelial cells. Would this work in theory?
2. Would this virus really cause the symptoms I need? My feeling tells me that it would be more likely to cause cancer then necrosis, but maybe the necrotic tissue is a result of the immune reaction?
3. What would the "no-cure-but-slows-it-down"-drug look like? Immunosupressive ?
4. My main character got infected but survived. What's going on in his body?

Maybe I'm over thinking it, but it would be super embarrassing to get the virus wrong (plus: I hate the "this is not how science works" moments science fiction novels), so I want to make sure this makes sense.

All IMO:

Yes, I think postulating that the virus restored telomerase expression/function to dermal fibroblasts and keratinocytes to rejuvinate aging skin is quite feasible.

It's not feasible that the creators of the virus would make it airborne. They'd be making it to sell it to old people for profit. You don't want other old people to get it for free via an airborne virus. You want every person to pay for it. Preferably on a regular basis, so you want the virus to provide a temporary rather than permanent rejuvinating effect.

So if you want your virus to go rogue (go viral! grin), it needs to undergo three changes:
1. To be transmissible via air
2. To be able to target/enter cells of organs other than the skin
3. To do something other than restore telomerase expression/function

#1 isn't too hard; if the altered virus can target the mucosal lining of the respiratory system, as you've postulated, anyone infected with it will be coughing and sneezing it out. As long as the virus is fairly hardy and can survive on a benchtop for a few days, it'll be quite contagious and will spread through a population quite easily. (Note, not all viruses are that hardy.)

You may be able to cook up a scenario where the Derma-Restore creators made an attenuated virus that can enter the cell and do its telomerase thang but is unable to reproduce (or, more correctly, to coerce the cell into producing new virions). But if the virus isn't quite as attenuated as they think it is, then you could have some people -- particularly those who get a heavy/repeated dose of the virus during treatment -- who have a few stray viruses that can replicate. Then, depending on the capabilities of the pre-attenuated virus (or the ability of the oops-it's-still-viable attenuated virus to recombine with other viruses present in the host such as HPV or rhinovirus or whatever) you could have a slow, spreading infection.

Immunosuppressants won't do any good to treat the virus itself, though it may be necessary to prevent serious organ damage. The immune system is designed to get rid of viruses (so you'd have to have a reason why it's not working in this case) and it does so by killing cells infected with a virus. So it's likely patients would need antiviral treatment to kill/disable the viruses, plus an immunosuppressant to block the cytotoxic T cells and NK cells from destroying the infected organs.