Human Benji Zusman

DRACO Antiviral Research

DRACO Antiviral Research
In Progress
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Greatest Discovery Since Penicillin: A Cure For Everything- From Colds to HIV

The above headline is the UK Daily Mail’s *very* optimistic interpretation of our lab’s research towards developing broad-spectrum antiviral therapies. The more technical journal article can be read at PLoS One. The basic idea is to create a novel antiviral treatment that specifically targets a virus-infected cell by linking one of its unique markers (a type of double-stranded RNA) to a trigger for suicide. The “DRACO” therapy kills virus-infected cells without harming uninfected cells, as seen below.

“In the left set, rhinovirus (the common cold virus) kills untreated human cells (lower left), whereas DRACO has no toxicity in uninfected cells (upper right) and cures an infected cell population (lower right). Similarly, in the right set, dengue hemorrhagic fever virus kills untreated monkey cells (lower left), whereas DRACO has no toxicity in uninfected cells (upper right) and cures an infected cell population (lower right)” (MIT):
DRACO microscopy

After years of being in the lab, I’m very happy to see our results generating so much interest- even if the gap between hopeful journalism and nitty gritty science is still very wide. A few other sources offered more measured, in-depth reports: Time, New Scientist, U.S. News and World Report, Popular Science, and The Huffington Post.

The Road to Darien

The Road to Darien
06/01/2009
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This is a scene from Benji Zusman’s “The Road to Darien”, a documentary which follows Latino and indigenous Embera residents who live near the Darien Gap, a sixty square mile patch of roadless jungle in the southernmost province of Panama. The area around this missing link in the 16,000 mile intercontinental Pan-American Highway has resisted encroachment since the sixteenth century. The film documents a recent attempt to build a road through the forest, and chronicles the resulting spiral of complications- involving a non-profit, the Panamanian government, the Catholic church, water engineers, and the Embera themselves.