Researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) have discovered what they describe as a “weak spot” in all key variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 – a finding they believe could open the door to treatments to fight future mutations.
In a peer-reviewed study published Thursday, the research team said they found a fairly consistent soft spot — like a curvature in the virus’s elevated protein shield — that has survived coronavirus mutations so far. Scientists determined that a certain part of the antibody was able to effectively “neutralize” all variants, to some extent, because it exploits the vulnerability.
“The exciting thing is what it tells us we can do now. Once you know [weak] Spot, it’s a bit like the gold rush analogy. “We know where to go,” said Sriram Subramaniam, senior author of the study and a professor at the University of British Columbia School of Medicine.
“Now we can use this information… to design better antibodies that can take advantage of this. [weak] Site.”
Search for “master key”
The body naturally produces antibodies to fight infection, but they can also be created in a laboratory to administer as a treatment. Several antibody therapies already exist to fight COVID-19, but their efficacy is waning against highly mutated variants such as the more recently prevalent Omicron.
“Antibodies bind to the virus in a very specific way, like when a key goes into a lock. But when the virus mutates, the key no longer fits,” Subramaniam wrote in a statement.
“We were looking for master switches – antibodies that continue to neutralize the virus even after widespread mutations.”
Subramaniam said the antibody fragment identified in the paper would be the “master switch”.
Matthew Miller, director of the DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, described the findings as a “really important development” in the fight against COVID-19.
“He was able to show that this antibody works against all of them and that is really unique… It certainly raises hope that this [weak] The area they’re targeting is going to be an area the virus will have a lot of trouble changing – even going forward, because if it’s easy to change, it’s very likely [the virus] “He was really going to try to change it,” said Miller, who was not involved in the study.
“Now … viruses can always trick us,” he noted in an interview on Thursday. “They are smart. There are always ways out. But what we want to do is make it as difficult as possible to do it.”
High-tech imaging is used to study viruses
As part of the study published in Nature ConnectionsThe research team used a process called cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) to examine the weak spot in the virus’s spike protein, called the epitope.
Cryo-EM technology involves freezing samples of the virus and taking hundreds of thousands of images – similar to X-rays – used to recreate a 3D model of the molecule from the atomic level.
“Imagine you were the size of an atom and you could see exactly what was going on,” Subramaniam explained.
Through this process, the team saw how the antibodies interacted with the virus. The antibody fragment, called VH Ab6, was able to attach to the weak spot and neutralize the virus.
Subramaniam said drug companies could exploit the vulnerability to create a treatment that would potentially be “resilient”.
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The researcher noted that the developments resulting from the team’s discovery will not be part of the treatment of COVID-19 in clinics for some time, but he described it as another step in understanding the Corona virus itself and the disease it causes.
“We never know if this antibody suddenly won’t be effective against the next variant or not…but we’re just saying it held up so well that it could neutralize the variants we’ve seen so far,” Subramaniam said.
The UBC team collaborated with colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh, who have screened large antibody libraries and tested their efficacy against COVID-19.