Scientists at MIT are developing a new drug that has the potential to revolutionize medicine with its ability to treat almost any viral infection.

A team of researchers at MIT's Lincoln Laboratory has designed a drug that can identify cells that have been infected by any type of virus, then kill those cells to terminate the infection, reports MIT news.

The drug will supposedly fight viruses as effectively as penicillin treats bacteria.

In a paper published in July in the journal PLoS One, researchers tested the drug on human and animal cells and found that it was effective against 15 viruses-including rhinoviruses that cause the common cold, H1N1 influenza, a stomach virus, a polio virus, dengue fever and several other types of hemorrhagic fever.

The drug called DRACO (for double-stranded RNA activated caspase oligomerizers) works "by using human cells' natural defense systems against viral infection", an article in Time magazine's Healthland section explained.

When a virus infects a healthy cell it produces long strands of double-stranded RNA or dsRNA and assumes control over the cell in order to replicate. Once it finishes replicating it kills off the host cell and moves on.

Human cells also have proteins that attach themselves to dsRNA which instigate a series of reactions that prevent the virus from multiplying. The drug basically combines the protein from the human cells with another protein that tells the infected cells to "commit suicide," or apoptosis.

When one end of DRACO binds to dsRNA, it signals the other end of DRACO to initiate apoptosis, killing cells before the virus has a chance to replicate, added Time's Healthland article.

Although most of the tests reported in this study were done in human and animal cells cultured in the lab, researchers also tested DRACO in mice infected with the H1N1 influenza virus. This broad-spectrum technology completely cured the mice infected with the H1N1 flu virus.

Researchers are hopeful that the new treatment could potentially be used to combat outbreaks of new viruses like SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome)

"In theory, it should work against all viruses," says Todd Rider, a senior staff scientist in Lincoln Laboratory's Chemical, Biological, and Nanoscale Technologies Group who invented the new technology told MIT news.

According to the study, researchers are currently testing DRACO against more viruses in mice, and hope move on to testing in larger animals and humans in the future.