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[COVID-19 Update]: Scientists Find New Anti-Viral Cellular Mechanisms; Mouse Model Pushes Vaccine Research; Conundrum of Moderna Vaccine’s Storage

Scientists have discovered a new viral celluar mechanism to provide new ways to defend against viruses such as Ebola and SARS-CoV-2.

The COVID-19 pandemic triggered by the SARS-CoV-2 virus has created an immediate need for antiviral treatments, at least until effective vaccines get developed. In this respect, researchers from around the world are studying cellular mechanisms so as to find different vulnerability sites in the SARS-CoV-2 virus for neutralization with antibodies.

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Research Shows New Cellular Mechanism Can Induce Protection Against Viruses

Scientists from the Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason (BRI), Case Western Reserve University, Boston University School of Medicine, and MRIGlobal have uncovered new cellular protection pathways to provide protection against viruses such as the Ebola virus, SARS-CoV-2, and other coronaviruses. The discovery is expected to guide future treatments for viral diseases. The research has been published in Journal Science. 

The study reveals a novel method to prevent viral fusion and human cell entry, paving the way for advanced antiviral therapies. Researchers have also used a transposon-mediated mechanism of gene activation to identify new genes that can resist viruses.

Talking about the discovery, Adam Lacy-Hulbert, lead author of the research stated:

Uncovering these new cellular protection pathways is incredibly important for understanding how we disrupt or change the virus infection cycle to elicit better protection against viruses like Ebola or SARS-CoV-2.

The new strategy serves as a measure to discover resistance mechanisms against harmful viruses. It found that the MHC class II transactivator (CIITA) builds a resistance mechanism in human cells by activating a second gene, CD74. This interferes with the protein processing on the cover of the virus proteins, which eventually prevents the virus from entering the cell. This can also block the entry pathway of coronaviruses such as SARS-CoV-2.

Lynda M. Stuart, Deputy Director, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and co-author of the study stated:

[..] we hope that our insights will open up new avenues for scientists developing therapies and interventions to treat viral infectious diseases that impact millions of lives around the world.

Mouse-adapted COVID-19 model to Advance Vaccine Research

Researchers from the University of North Carolina have devised a new COVID-19 mouse model that helped them to capture many characteristics of the human disease. This has helped them in advancing a vaccine candidate to clinical trials. 

In order to determine effective medical countermeasures at the earliest, small animal models that replicate the SARS-CoV-2 virus, like in humans, are being developed by scientists. Similarly, the mouse model developed by Ralph Baric has already proved to be effective in pushing the production of vaccines, such as the one being developed by Moderna. 

SARS-CoV-2 enters the host cell through the ACE2 receptor. However, the virus cannot latch onto the mouse variant of the viral receptor ACE2. Therefore, scientists at the Baric Laboratory used their experience and expertise to adapt the virus to the mouse. The scientists modified two amino acid positions in the virus to do so. 

Co-author of the study, Srah R. Leist, stated, “generating mild symptoms in young mice and in old mice, we saw more severe disease in line with what has been reported in the human population.”

Scientists believe that this model will have a significant influence on the production of COVID-19 treatments and will push research in the field. The detailed report of the research has been published on 27th August in Journal Nature. 

Moderna Vaccine Will Require Special Facilities For Administration

The vaccine being developed by Moderna Inc. will require rigid refrigeration standards for storage. This has raised concerns pertaining to the way how the vaccine will be stored and distributed to the millions of people.

Moderna told the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice that its vaccine candidate, mRNA-1273, requires a storage temperature of -4 °F.

On the other hand, Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech have stated that its vaccine, BN1162b2 and BNT162b2 will require -94 °F for storage.

Analysts from SVB Leerlink, a specialist investment bank on the healthcare sector, stated that the storage conditions will require special arrangements for the vaccine and it will not be very feasible to inoculate a larger population.

These storage conditions would make traditional office or pharmacy administration very difficult. These conditions could be met at tertiary hospitals and laboratories and could be accommodated in intensive one-day vaccination events at such sites, but this would still only cover a fraction of the healthy population.

Even the doctors at CDC have noted the issue. A medical officer from the CDC, Dr. Kathleen Dooling, stated that it would be very difficult to stock and distribute vaccines from local pharmacies. She stated that the majority of the vaccines would have to be “administered at centralized sites with adequate equipment and high throughput.”

These vaccines are mRNA vaccines. Analysts believe that the hardships of storage and administration of mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines can be a competitive disadvantage for the companies. Investors are closely examining the storage and distribution requirements of vaccine candidates as they take competitive positioning into account.

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Muskan Bagrecha
Muskan is an undergraduate student pursuing a Bachelor's in Technology. With a zealous spirit for writing, she finds herself open to the vast realm of learning. She is an avid programmer with a keen interest in technology and science.


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