Scientists have developed a sting that stops a range of coronaviruses from spreading.
It could end pandemics caused by zoonotic diseases that affect animals.
In experiments, the vaccine stopped five different types in their tracks – including Covid-19.
Lead author Professor Tomohiro Kurosaki from Osaka University said: “Previous coronavirus epidemics such as SARS-CoV-1 and MERS-CoV have occurred because zoonotic coronaviruses crossed the species barrier.
“The potential for similar viruses to emerge poses a significant threat to global public health, even in the face of effective vaccines against current viruses.”
The Japanese team genetically modified the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes Covid.
Covering its head with extra sugar molecules protected it from the immune system. It failed to bind to the ACE2 protein in human cells, resulting in infection.
In immunized mice, the production of antibodies against the unprotected core was increased dramatically. They blocked SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV-1 – which started the SARS outbreak in 2002.
Three similar corona viruses from bats and pangolins also hit a “stone wall”. Covid started in bats and spread from another animal to humans.
The strategy powers antibodies that neutralize multiple coronaviruses, the researchers said. They hope that with more work it can be successfully transferred to humans.
The study in the Journal of Experimental Medicine opens the door to a next-generation push that will reduce the risk of pandemics.
Covid penetrates human cells by using its spike protein to bind to the ACE2 cell surface receptor. It consists of two parts – a “core”, which is very similar in all coronaviruses, and a more specialized “head”.
Antibodies that recognize the latter can block the penetration of SARS-CoV-2 into cells, but offer little protection against other coronaviruses. This includes SARS-CoV-1, which was responsible for severe cases of acute respiratory syndrome nearly two decades ago.
Antibodies that identify the nucleus, on the other hand, can prevent various coronaviruses from entering human cells.
Unfortunately, individuals exposed to the viral spike protein tend to only produce antibodies against the head.
Kurosaki said, “This suggests that SARS-CoV-2 infection and current vaccines, while the formation of largely neutralizing antibodies is possible, is unlikely to protect against the emergence of new SARS-related viruses.”
Covid has already claimed around five million lives. The UN warns that viruses that spread from animals to humans are becoming more common.
Recent health crises have included avian flu, swine flu, Ebola, which originated from monkeys, and MERS – another coronavirus linked to camels.
Outbreaks among humans are usually due to the exploitation of wildlife, including intensive battery farming and the sale of meat for food.
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