Coronavirus cure: Coronavirus ‘spike’ protein just mapped, paving way to vaccine

Coronavirus has struck more than 75,000 people worldwide, resulting in 2,130 deaths at the time of writing. Researchers are in a race against time to create a vaccine for the disease, and experts at the University of Texas have made a major breakthrough in their efforts to do so.

Scientists have made the first 3D atomic scale map of the part of the virus known as the spike protein which attaches itself to human cells to make them ill.

Mapping this part of the virus is an essential step so researchers around the world can develop vaccines and antiviral drugs to combat the virus, the University of Texas said.

The researchers behind the project had an advantage as they have previously studied other coronaviruses such as SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV.

This prior research gave the scientists a head start in mapping the new virus known as COVID-19.

Jason McLellan, associate professor at UT Austin who led the research, said: “As soon as we knew this was a coronavirus, we felt we had to jump at it because we could be one of the first ones to get this structure.

“We knew exactly what mutations to put into this, because we’ve already shown these mutations work for a bunch of other coronaviruses.”

Chinese researchers first mapped the genome sequence of the virus, and following that, it took 12 days for the scientists at the University of Texas to create the 3D atomic scale map of the protein virus.

Prof McLellan added: “We ended up being the first ones in part due to the infrastructure at the Sauer Lab.

“It highlights the importance of funding basic research facilities.”

A statement from the University of Texas outlined the next steps: “Next, McLellan’s team plans to use their molecule to pursue another line of attack against the virus that causes COVID-19, using the molecule as a ‘probe’ to isolate naturally produced antibodies from patients who have been infected with the novel coronavirus and successfully recovered.

“In large enough quantities, these antibodies could help treat a coronavirus infection soon after exposure.

“For example, the antibodies could protect soldiers or health care workers sent into an area with high infection rates on too short notice for the immunity from a vaccine to take effect.”

The World Health Organisation has said it could take up to 18 months to create a vaccine but experts have said it could prove difficult to do so as coronaviruses are good mutators.

Rob Grenfell, Director of Health and Biosecurity at CSIRO, and Trevor Drew, Director of the Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL), said that as COVID-19 is an animal virus which was passed on to humans, it has already shown it is capable of mutating.

As it is past from person to person and region to region, the duo say, it will continue to mutate even more so, perhaps differently in varying regions of the world.

The pair wrote in an article for The Conversation: “Being an animal virus, it has already likely mutated as it adapted – first to another animal, and then jumping from an animal to humans.

“Initially this was without transmission among people, but now it has taken the significant step of sustained human-to-human transmission.

“As the virus continues to infect people, it is going through something of a stabilisation, which is part of the mutation process.”

Source: Read Full Article