Nasal Spray Blocks Covid-19 and Other Viruses

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have created a new COVID-19 therapeutic that could one day make treating SARS-CoV-2 infections as easy as using a nasal spray for allergies. The therapeutic uses short snippets of synthetic DNA to gum up the genetic machinery that allows SARS-CoV-2 to replicate within the body.

In a new study published online in the journal Nature Communications, the team shows that these short snippets, called antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs), are highly effective at preventing the virus from replicating in human cells. When administered in the nose, these ASOs are also effective at preventing and treating COVID-19 infection in mice and hamsters.

Vaccines are making a huge difference, but vaccines are not universal, and there is still a tremendous need for other approaches,” said Anders Näär, a professor of metabolic biology in the Department of Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology (NST) at UC Berkeley and senior author of the paper. “A nasal spray that is cheaply available everywhere and that could prevent someone from getting infected or prevent serious disease could be immensely helpful.”

Because the ASO treatment targets a portion of the viral genome that is highly conserved among different variants, it is effective against all SARS-CoV-2variants of concern” in human cells and in animal models. It is also chemically stable and relatively inexpensive to produce at large scale, making it ideal for treating COVID-19 infections in areas of the world that do not have access to electricity or refrigeration.

If the treatment proves to be safe and effective in humans, the ASO technology could be readily modified to target other RNA viruses. The research team is already searching for a way to use this to disrupt influenza viruses, which also have pandemic potential.

If we can design ASOs that target entire viral families, then when a new pandemic emerges, as long as we know which family the virus belongs to, we could use the nasally delivered ASOs to suppress the pandemic in its early stages,” said study first author Chi Zhu, a postdoctoral scholar in NST at UC Berkeley. “That’s the beauty of this new therapeutic.”

Source: https://news.berkeley.edu/

Nose Spray Vaccines Could Quash COVID Virus Variants

The relentless evolution of the COVID-causing coronavirus has taken a bit of the shine off the vaccines developed during the first year of the pandemic. Versions of the virus that now dominate circulationOmicron and its subvariants—are more transmissible and adept at evading the body’s immune defenses than its original form. The current shots to the arm can still prevent serious illness, but their ability to ward off infection completely has been diminished. And part of the reason may be the location of the jabs, which some scientists now want to change.

To block infections entirely, scientists want to deliver inoculations to the site where the virus first makes contact: the nose. People could simply spray the vaccines up their nostrils at home, making the preparation much easier to administer. There are eight of these nasal vaccines in clinical development now and three in phase 3 clinical trials, where they are being tested in large groups of people. But making these vaccines has proven to be slow going because of the challenges of creating formulations for this unfamiliar route that are both safe and effective.

What could be most important about nasal vaccines is their ability to awaken a powerful bodily defender known as mucosal immunity, something largely untapped by the standard shots. The mucosal system relies on specialized cells and antibodies within the mucus-rich lining of the nose and other parts of our airways, as well as the gut. These elements move fast and arrive first, stopping the virus, SARS-CoV-2, before it can create a deep infection. “We are dealing with a different threat than we were in 2020,” says Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale University. “If we want to contain the spread of the virus, the only way to do that is through mucosal immunity.

Iwasaki is leading one of several research groups in the U.S. and elsewhere that are working on nasal vaccines. Some of the sprays encapsulate the coronavirusspike proteins—the prominent molecule that the virus uses to bind to human cells—into tiny droplets that can be puffed into the sinuses. Others add the gene for the spike to harmless versions of common viruses, such as adenoviruses, and use the defanged virus to deliver the gene into nasal tissue. Still others rely on synthetically bioengineered SARS-CoV-2 converted into a weakened form known as a live attenuated vaccine.

Sourc: https://www.scientificamerican.com/

A 1889 “Flu” Similar to SARS-CoV-2 is Now Under Investigation

In May 1889, people living in Bukhara, a city that was then part of the Russian Empire, began sickening and dying. The respiratory virus that killed them became known as the Russian flu. It swept the world, overwhelming hospitals and killing the old with special ferocity.

Schools and factories were forced to close because so many students and workers were sick. Some of the infected described an odd symptom: a loss of smell and taste. And some of those who recovered reported a lingering exhaustion. The Russian flu finally ended a few years later, after at least three waves of infection.

Its patterns of infection and symptoms have led some virologists and historians of medicine to now wonder: Might the Russian flu actually have been a pandemic driven by a coronavirus? And could its course give us clues about how our pandemic will play out and wind down?

If a coronavirus caused the Russian flu, some believe that pathogen may still be around, its descendants circulating worldwide as one of the four coronaviruses that cause the common cold. If so, it would be different from flu pandemics whose viruses stick around for a while only to be replaced by new variants years later that cause a new pandemic.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/

Sanofi Covid Vaccine Shows 100% Efficacy Against Severe Disease

Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline Plc, the pharma giants that stumbled in the race to develop a Covid-19 shot, found their vaccine protects against severe disease and hospitalization and will submit data to regulators for clearance. The duo said data from a trial shows that two doses of the Sanofi-GSK vaccine have 100% efficacy against severe Covid-19 and hospitalizations and 58% efficacy against any symptomatic Covid-19 disease. They said the safety of the vaccine was favorable too.

Meanwhile, a separate study showed it could increase neutralizing antibody levels 18- to 30-fold when used as a booster in people who’ve received other types of shots first. Shares in Sanofi rose as much as 1.7% in Paris on Wednesday, while GSK rose as much as 1.6% in London.

The data should allow the vaccine giants to finally play a big role in the pandemic fight, after repeated development delays allowed nimbler competitors like Moderna Inc. and the BioNTech SEPfizer Inc. alliance to rush ahead with messenger-RNA products. Those companies, along with AstraZeneca Plc and Johnson & Johnson, steered highly effective products rapidly to market, helping save millions of lives and earning tens of billions of dollars in revenue.

While the Sanofi-Glaxo product appears to be on par with the mRNA shots when it comes to preventing severe disease and hospitalization, the efficacy may trail somewhat in terms of symptomatic disease, Sam Fazeli, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, said in a note.

The vaccine will find a place among people reticent to take mRNA vaccines and in lower-income countries, making for a modest commercial impact on Sanofi and Glaxo,” Fazeli said.

Source: https://www.bloomberg.com/

Highly Dangerous COVID Mutation Could Emerge in Cats

The recent suggestion that ministers may have to consider culling or vaccinating animals to prevent the coronavirus from picking up another dangerous mutation and jumping back to humans may sound like sudden panic, but it’s just part of a long debate among scientists.

Evidence that cats could be infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, emerged as early as April 2020 from Wuhan, China. Evidence that they could also transmit the infection to other cats under particular conditions appeared in the same month. Since then, infections have been confirmed in mink in Denmark and the Netherlands, in big cats in zoos, in dogs, ferrets and a range of other species. It’s also worth remembering that the source of SARS-CoV-2 is probably bats and that other species of wildlife may also be infectable.

Infection of some of these species with SARS-CoV-2 can cause actual disease, creating veterinary, welfare or conservation problems. However, transmission to or from companion animals that spend a lot of time in close contact with people also presents extra problems for trying to control a pandemic in humans. For example, if transmission between humans and cats happens easily, then controlling the pandemic in people might require measures to prevent it, and that might include vaccinating and quarantining cats.

There is good evidence for transmission from humans to cats but very little evidence for transmission from cats to humans. Nor is there much evidence for transmission between cats in normal situations (that is, not in a laboratory). At the moment, there’s no real reason to be concerned that infections in cats are a major problem. You’re at much greater risk from your family and friends with COVID than from their cats, although you should take normal hygiene precautions you use to reduce the risks of catching other diseases (such as toxoplasmosis) from cats.

Source: https://theconversation.com

Hunting for the Coronavirus’s Origin

More than a year after Covid-19 touched off the worst pandemic in more than a century, scientists have yet to determine its origins. The closest related viruses to SARS-CoV-2 were found in bats over 1,000 miles from the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the disease erupted in late 2019. Initially, cases were tied to a fresh food market and possibly the wildlife sold there. An investigation in early 2021 has highlighted the possibility that they acted as a vector, transferring the virus from bats to humans. More politically charged theories allege the virus accidentally escaped from a nearby research laboratory, or entered China from another country via imported frozen food. Amid all the posturing, governments and scientists agree that deciphering the creation story.

Three closely related viruses to SARS-CoV-2 that had been collected during the previous 15 years. The closest, about 96% identical, was isolated from a species of horseshoe bat, Rhinolophus affinis, in the southern Chinese province of Yunnan in 2013. Some researchers have linked that particular virus to a mineshaft in Mojiang county there, where six men contracted a pneumonia-like disease in 2012 that killed three of them. Although they may share a common ancestor, the two are not similar enough to indicate SARS-CoV-2 was derived from the Yunnan virus. Sampling of bats in Hubei province, which includes Wuhan, haven’t found any positive for the pandemic strain. Coronaviruses sharing genetic features with SARS-CoV-2 have been found in other bat species and pangolins, a scaly, ant-eating mammal, elsewhere in Asia, highlighting the broad distribution that may have contributed to its evolution.

https://www.bloomberg.com/

Single Dose Nanoparticle Vaccine Efficient To Produce Covid Antibodies

Across the world, health care workers and high-risk groups are beginning to receive COVID-19 vaccines, offering hope for a return to normalcy amidst the pandemic. However, the vaccines authorized for emergency use in the U.S. require two doses to be effective, which can create problems with logistics and compliance. Now, researchers reporting in ACS Central Science have developed a nanoparticle vaccine that elicits a virus-neutralizing antibody response in mice after only a single dose.

The primary target for COVID-19 vaccines is the spike protein, which is necessary for SARS-CoV-2’s entry into cells. Both of the vaccines currently authorized in the U.S. are mRNA vaccines that cause human cells to temporarily produce the spike protein, triggering an immune response and antibody production.

Peter Kim and colleagues wanted to try a different approach: a vaccine consisting of multiple copies of the spike protein displayed on ferritin nanoparticles. Ferritin is an iron storage protein found in many organisms that self-assembles into a larger nanoparticle. Other proteins, such as viral antigens, can be fused to ferritin so that each nanoparticle displays several copies of the protein, which might cause a stronger immune response than a single copy.

The researchers spliced spike protein and ferritin DNA together and then expressed the hybrid protein in cultured mammalian cells. The ferritin self-assembled into nanoparticles, each bearing eight copies of the spike protein trimer. The team purified the spike/ferritin particles and injected them into mice. After a single immunization, mice produced neutralizing antibody titers that were at least two times higher than those in convalescent plasma from COVID-19 patients, and significantly higher than those in mice immunized with the spike protein alone. A second immunization 21 days later produced even higher antibody levels. Although these results must be confirmed in human clinical trials, they suggest that the spike/ferritin nanoparticles may be a viable strategy for single-dose vaccination against COVID-19, the researchers say.

Source: https://www.acs.org/

The U.S. has vaccinated just 1 million people out of a goal of 20 million for December

Just over 1 million people in the U.S. have received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine as of Wednesday morning, a far cry from the federal government’s goal of inoculating 20 million Americans by the end of the year.

Now that two Covid-19 vaccines have been approved for emergency use, the biggest hurdle to  the pandemic in the U.S. is getting the doses to the roughly 331 million Americans across the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 1,008,025 shots had been administered as of Wednesday at 9 a.m. ET.

https://www.cnbc.com/

Paper-based Sensor Detects COVID-19 in Five minutes

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across the world, testing remains a key strategy for tracking and containing the virus. Bioengineering graduate student, Maha Alafeef, has co-developed a rapid, ultrasensitive test using a paper-based electrochemical sensor that can detect the presence of the virus in less than five minutes. The team led by professor Dipanjan Pan reported their findings in ACS Nano

“Currently, we are experiencing a once-in-a-century life-changing event,” said Alafeef. “We are responding to this global need from a holistic approach by developing multidisciplinary tools for early detection and diagnosis and treatment for SARS-CoV-2.” 

There are two broad categories of COVID-19 tests on the market. The first category uses reverse transcriptase real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and nucleic acid hybridization strategies to identify viral RNA. Current FDA-approved diagnostic tests use this technique. Some drawbacks include the amount of time it takes to complete the test, the need for specialized personnel and the availability of equipment and reagents. The second category of tests focuses on the detection of antibodies. However, there could be a delay of a few days to a few weeks after a person has been exposed to the virus for them to produce detectable antibodies.

n recent years, researchers have had some success with creating point-of-care biosensors using 2D nanomaterials such as graphene to detect diseases. The main advantages of graphene-based biosensors are their sensitivity, low cost of production and rapid detection turnaround. “The discovery of graphene opened up a new era of sensor development due to its properties. Graphene exhibits unique mechanical and electrochemical properties that make it ideal for the development of sensitive electrochemical sensors,” said Alafeef. The team created a graphene-based electrochemical biosensor with an electrical read-out setup to selectively detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2 genetic material.

There are two components to this biosensor: a platform to measure an electrical read-out and probes to detect the presence of viral RNA. To create the platform, researchers first coated filter paper with a layer of graphene nanoplatelets to create a conductive film. Then, they placed a gold electrode with a predefined design on top of the graphene as a contact pad for electrical readout. Both gold and graphene have high sensitivity and conductivity which makes this platform ultrasensitive to detect changes in electrical signals.

Source: https://pubs.acs.org
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https://bioengineering.illinois.edu/

Operation Warp Speed chief predicts coronavirus vaccines for all Americans by June

Over the next six months there will be enough coronavirus vaccine produced to immunize every American, Operation Warp Speed chief Moncef Slaoui is predicting. “Hopefully, by the middle of the year, I hope most Americans will have been immunized,” Slaoui, head of the Trump administration’s vaccine initiative, said at a Post Live event yesterday. “If enough people are immunized, we should have this pandemic under control in the second half of 2021.”

It requires not only manufacturing of more than 600 million doses of the two-shot vaccine, but also transporting it to all corners of the country, making it accessible to Americans of all stripes, and persuading them it’s safe.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/