Vulnerability: US scientists have found an ‘Achilles Heel’ of the coronavirus
WASHINGTON, (BM) – Scientists at the Scripps Institute in the United States found a new “Achilles heel” of coronavirus that is vulnerable to antibodies. This discovery will help in the development of drugs for the treatment of COVID-19 and possibly in the development of a vaccine. The study was published in the journal Science.
Researchers studied the antibodies of one of the patients suffering from SARS, obtained back in 2003, and tried to track exactly how they fight SARS virions. Although the antibodies were rather weak, they made it possible to understand where the vulnerability of the virus was.
The region with which the antibodies interacted was similar to that of SARS-CoV-2, the researchers note.
And, apparently, it is important for the existence of the virus, since there were no significant mutations in it.
“We found a vulnerability that is hidden under the viral envelope and becomes accessible only when the virus changes its structure during infection,” explains Dr. Men Yang, one of the authors of the work.
Researchers reckon that the search for such hidden, unobvious vulnerabilities will allow faster and more efficient development of drugs and vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 and other coronaviruses that could potentially appear in the future.
In addition, scientists suggest that the vulnerability found may be sensitive to some existing drugs. In the meantime, they admit that it will be possible to develop temporary means of protection based on antibodies. Now the institute’s employees are looking for antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 in the blood samples of those who have had COVID-19. Plasma therapy for people who have recovered has already been used in many hospitals around the world, but more targeted antibody work will make therapy more effective.
People have five basic types of antibodies, the researchers explain, and their blood levels vary greatly from person to person.
Therefore, now they are looking for people who have had COVID-19 who are ready to donate their blood for research. This will allow you to find antibodies that will best detect and destroy the virus in the body.
Of greatest interest are people whose last symptoms have passed 2-3 weeks ago – antibodies that fight the virus become stronger over time, the authors of the work say.
Earlier, a team of researchers from the University of Minnesota found another weak spot of the coronavirus – its protein spikes.
They hope this helps create effective medicines for those infected.
Studying the features of SARS-CoV-2 spikes and human cell receptors using x-rays, scientists found that just a few mutations made the molecular “crest” of the spike more compact than the similar structure in the atypical pneumonia pathogen. These and other changes have helped SARS-CoV-2 to attach to receptors more reliably, to infect human cells more efficiently and to spread faster.
Researchers hope that their work can be used to create monoclonal antibodies that will recognize and neutralize parts of protein spikes that bind to receptors. Also part of the spike can be used to create a vaccine. In general, they note, this study may be useful in developing strategies to combat the virus based on how it binds to receptors.
And specialists from the University of Pittsburgh in the United States developed a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 and successfully tested it in mice.
They hope to begin testing in humans in the coming months.
The data on the protein that forms the spines of virions formed the basis.
The vaccine is called PittCoVacc (short for Pittsburgh Coronavirus Vaccine). Unlike another experimental vaccine based on the mitochondrial DNA of the virus, the clinical trials of which have recently begun, a more traditional approach is used here and fragments of viral proteins are taken as the basis. Similarly, for example, flu vaccines are being developed.
So far, the vaccine has been tested only on mice. According to scientists, in them it led to increased production of antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 within two weeks after administration.
What will happen in the long run is not yet clear. But earlier studies of the MERS-CoV vaccine showed that the level of antibodies sufficient to protect is maintained for at least a year, and so far, changes in the concentration levels of antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 follow the same scenario.
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