File image: Pexels

It is the pesky illness which causes misery for us all, with decades of research put into finding a cure.

And British scientists now believe we may be one step closer to beating the common cold for good.

Researchers at Edinburgh Napier University have uncovered ‘exciting' new possibilities for treatments based on infection-fighting molecules that occur naturally in humans. 

A five-year study into ‘anti-microbial peptides' from different mammals found they all had properties that can combat rhinovirus, the main virus responsible for the common cold infection.

The breakthrough could prove particularly helpful to people who suffer from chronic lung conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease for whom viral infections can be extremely serious. But it could also offer hope to millions infected with colds every year. 

The average person suffers from around 200 colds in their lifetime, with children catching around four to eight colds annually. There is currently no cure or vaccine for the common cold – with remedies such as painkillers, rest, and drinking plenty of fluids the best way to ease its symptoms while the infection runs its course.

Dr Peter Barlow, associate professor of immunology and infection at Edinburgh Napier, said yesterday: "There is no cure and no vaccine so the development of effective therapies for human rhinovirus, the main causal agent of the common cold, and one of the most common causes of viral respiratory tract infections, is an urgent requirement. It can be quite dangerous in some people such as those with asthma. 

"This is an exciting discovery and our next steps will be to modify the peptide to make it even better at killing this virus. It is currently very potent at killing the virus but we want to make it even better. 

"This research is still in the early stages, but we will ultimately be looking to develop drug treatments that have the potential to cure the common cold.' Antimicrobial peptides form part of the body's immune system and are found in places like the skin, mouth and lungs. They play a critical role in warding off infections, and  earlier research by Barlow and his team identified antimicrobial peptides that attacked the flu virus." 

Barlow said it was not yet clear what form any treatment might take. But he added: "This could be used for the common cold but also for the flu virus so this is almost the tip of the iceberg and we want to find out what other viruses it could be effective for."

The study was published in the medical journal Peptides.