Lab-Created Virus Can Help COVID-19 Research

By Robert Preidt
HealthDay reporter

MONDAY, July 27, 2020 (HealthDay News) – A lab-created virus that is similar but not as dangerous as the new coronavirus could help efforts to create COVID-19 treatments and vaccines, according to the scientists who created it.

Airborne and potentially fatal, the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 must be studied under strict safety conditions. Precautions include full-body biohazard suits with pressurized respirators and laboratories with multiple levels of containment and specialized ventilation systems.

But many scientists do not have access to such safety measures, slowing efforts to find drugs and vaccines. For example, a team of researchers from Washington University’s Faculty of Medicine in St. Louis said they have created a hybrid virus that does not require such extensive measures.

To create it, they replaced a gene in a benign virus with that of SARS-CoV-2. The hybrid virus infects cells and is recognized by antibodies such as SARS-CoV-2, but can be studied using ordinary laboratory safety protocols.

“I have never received so many requests for scientific material in such a short period of time,” said study co-author Sean Whelan, head of the university’s molecular microbiology department.

“We have distributed the virus to researchers in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Canada and, of course, all over the United States,” he said in an academic press release. “We have pending requests from the UK and Germany. Before we even published, people heard that we were working on this and started requesting the material.”

The researchers said the hybrid virus could help scientists evaluate a range of preventive treatments and antibody treatments against COVID-19.

And because the hybrid virus looks like SARS-CoV-2 to the immune system, it is a potential vaccine candidate, the researchers said. They’re doing animal studies to assess the possibility.

The study was recently published online in the journal Cell host and microbe.

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SOURCE: Washington University School of Medicine, press release, July 21, 2020

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