A plug that stops the spread of a number of coronaviruses has been created by researchers.
It can stop pandemics caused by zoonotic diseases that occur in animals.
In experiments, the vaccine stopped five different types in their tracks – including Covid -19.
Lead author Professor Tomohiro Kurosaki of Osaka University said: “Previous coronavirus epidemics such as SARS-CoV-1 and MERS-CoV have occurred due to zoonotic coronaviruses crossing the species barrier.
“The potential for the emergence of similar viruses poses a significant threat to global public health, even in the light of effective vaccines against current viruses.”
The Japanese team genetically engineered the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2-the virus that causes Covid.
Covering the head in additional sugar molecules protected it from the immune system. It could not bind to the ACE2 protein in human cells leading to infection.
In immunized mice, the production of antibodies to the unshielded nucleus was dramatically increased. They blocked SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV-1, which triggered the SARS outbreak in 2002.
Three similar coronaviruses from bats and pangolins also hit a ‘stone wall’. Covid started with bats and jumped to humans from another animal.
The strategy produces antibodies that neutralize multiple coronaviruses, researchers say. They hope that with more work it can be successfully translated into people.
The study in the Journal of Experimental Medicine opens the door to a next-generation plug that will reduce the risk of pandemics.
Covid enters human cells by using its spike protein to bind to the ACE2 cell surface receptor. It consists of two parts – a ‘core’ that is very similar to all coronaviruses and a more specialized ‘head’.
Antibodies that recognize the latter may block the entry of SARS-CoV-2 into cells, but provide little protection against other coronaviruses. These include SARS-CoV-1, which is responsible for severe cases of acute respiratory syndrome nearly two decades ago.
Antibodies that identify the nucleus, on the other hand, can prevent the penetration of various coronaviruses into human cells.
Unfortunately, individuals exposed to the viral spike protein tend to produce only antibodies against the head.
Prof Kurosaki said: “This suggests that while it is possible to generate broadly neutralizing antibodies, SARS-CoV-2 infection and current vaccines are unlikely to protect against the emergence of new SARS-related viruses.”
Covid has already claimed about five million lives. The UN warns that viruses that jump from animals to humans are becoming increasingly common.
Recent health crises have included bird flu, swine flu, Ebola from monkeys and MERS – another coronavirus associated with camels.
Outbreaks among humans tend to stem from the exploitation of wildlife, including intense battery cultivation and the sale of meat for food.
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