New research between scientists at UNC and Duke has identified and tested an antibody that prevents severe infection from several coronaviruses, including those that cause COVID-19.
The antibody was identified by a team at the Duke Human Vaccine Institute and tested in animal models at UNC. Researchers published their findings Nov. 2 in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
“This antibody has the potential to be a cure for the current epidemic,” said co-senior author Dr. Barton Haynes, the director of Duke’s vaccine institute. “It may also be available for future outbreaks, if and when other coronaviruses jump from their natural animal hosts to humans.”
The antibody discovered to fight coronavirus infections was found by analyzing blood from a patient infected with the original SARS-CoV-1 virus and from a current COVID-19 patient.
Of these two patients, researchers identified more than 1,700 antibodies that the immune system produces to prevent the pathogen — in this case, coronaviruses — from infecting cells. Of these antibodies, they targeted those that targeted sites on the virus that remain unchanged even after mutations such as the delta variant.
Duke researchers found 50 antibodies that had the ability to bind to both the SARS-CoV-1 virus and SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19. One antibody was even shown to be able to bind to a large number of animal coronaviruses in addition to the two human-infecting pathogens.
With the most versatile antibody isolated, the Duke team turned to researchers at UNC to test the antibody in mice to determine whether it could effectively block or minimize infection.
They found it did both. When administered before the animals were infected, the antibody protected mice from developing SARS, COVID-19, variants thereof, as well as many animal coronaviruses that have the potential to cause human pandemics.
“The findings provide a template for the rational design of universal vaccine strategies that are variant resistant and provide broad protection against known and emerging coronaviruses,” said Dr. Ralph Baric, study co-author and research team leader at UNC.
According to a UNC press release, when administered after infections, the antibody reduced severe lung symptoms compared to animals not treated with the antibody.
Researchers said this treatment could be used in the current pandemic and also saved to prevent the spread of future outbreaks due to a SARS-related virus.
This study was funded in part by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the State of North Carolina with federal CARES Act funds, the National Cancer Institute and the North Carolina Policy Collaboratory at UNC and Duke University with funding from the North Carolina General Assembly.
Lead photo via UNC Health.
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