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LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 (coronavirus)

Scripps Researchers Find Vulnerability In Novel Coronavirus

The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is seen in yellow, emerging from cells (...

Credit: National Institutes of Health

Above: The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is seen in yellow, emerging from cells (in blue and pink) cultured in the lab. This image is from a scanning electron microscope.

As scientists around the world race to discover a vaccine for COVID-19, researchers in San Diego say they have found a vulnerability in the virus. The study came out Friday in the peer-reviewed journal Science.

Antibodies are proteins the body's immune system produces to identify and take out viruses. But sometimes these antibodies can’t kill a virus. And even if a certain antibody is effective, it may not bind in the right location to work.

Scripps Research Institute structural biologist Ian Wilson said he and his team found a location where an antibody can stick to the coronavirus. They tested out an antibody from a 2006 SARS patient on the novel coronavirus.

“The knowledge of conserved sites like this can aid in structure-based design of vaccines and therapeutics against SARS-CoV-2, and these would also protect against other coronaviruses — including those that may emerge in the future,” Wilson said.

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Wilson said so far in the study, this antibody doesn’t kill the coronavirus. But, he said the research offers a road map to scientists on where they should send antibodies that can stop the virus.

The virus "will keep going down the road till it gets to its final destination … inside our human cells and lungs," Wilson said. "So what the antibodies do is put up a roadblock. And we want to see where’s the best place to put up a roadblock."

“Our ultimate goal here is to obtain structural information on antibodies and their binding sites, and use that to guide SARS-CoV-2 vaccine design, just as our lab has done with influenza and HIV,” said the study’s co-first author, Nicholas Wu.

Labs at Scripps Research and throughout the world are hoping to collect more antibodies, via blood donations, from people who have recovered from COVID-19, so scientists can continue this work.

Wilson says finding these locations where antibodies can stick to the coronavirus is a first step, but an important one, in creating a vaccine.

Listen to this story by Shalina Chatlani.

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Shalina Chatlani
Science and Technology Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover all things science and technology — from the biotech industry in San Diego to rooftop solar energy on new homes. I'm interested in covering the human side of science and technology, like barriers to entry for people of color or gender equity issues on biotech boards.

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