COVID-19: University of BC researchers find ‘weak point’ of options

Medical advances have been likened to finding a “master key” that leads to effective treatment

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Researchers at the University of British Columbia have found a “weak spot” in all major variants of the virus that causes COVID-19, which could lead to universally effective treatments.

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In the study, published Thursday in the journal Nature Communications, the researchers used a process called cryo-electron microscopy.

This new technology allows researchers to quickly freeze proteins at the atomic level, so they can take hundreds of thousands of X-ray-like images of individual proteins.

“We can then computationally put them together in 3D to create an atomic landscape of the protein,” said Dr. Sriram Subramaniam, professor of medicine at UBC and lead author of the study.

“So in this particular case, what we’re talking about is one of many examples where we’re using technology to be a bystander in the interaction between an antibody and a spike protein.”

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And what they found was an antibody fragment capable of binding to this site and neutralizing each major variant.

— This is very powerful and allows us to see interactions in atomic detail. And, of course, it forms the basis for the development of the therapeutics of this pathway.

Subramaniam said This is SARS-CoV-2 A highly adaptable virus that has evolved to evade most current antibody treatments, their study reveals a weak spot in variants that can be neutralized by an antibody fragment.

“It’s a very malleable virus that has evolved to evade antibody treatments and most of the immunity tested by vaccines and natural infections,” he said. It was interesting to see a vulnerable site that didn’t change much in all these options.

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Antibodies attach to the virus in a unique way, like a key in a lock. But when the virus mutates, the key doesn’t fit… We’re looking for master keys.

The “master key” identified in this new paper is the VH Ab6 antibody fragment, which has been shown to be effective against the Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Kappa, Epsilon and Omicron variants. The fragment neutralizes SARS-CoV-2 by attaching to the epitope of this protein, preventing the virus from entering human cells.

Subramaniam says it’s too early to say this will lead to a vaccine for all mutations, but what they’ve discovered is to zero in and say which part of the virus is important. This can then be used by drug companies to find treatments.

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“So we’re going to do our best because he survived. It has survived major mutations throughout the pandemic … So I think this teaches us zero lessons and let’s find this hot spot to zero in on our efforts to get the best antibodies to achieve the effect of blocking the entry of the virus.

The discovery is a collaboration between Subramaniam’s team at UBC and colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh, led by Drs. Mitko Dimitrov and Wei Li.

ticrawford@postmedia.com


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