BRUSSELS — The Catholic University of Louvain (UCLouvain) in Belgium announced that its researchers have managed to identify the key that allows the COVID-19 virus to attack cells. What's more, they have succeeded in closing the lock to block the virus and prevent it from interacting with the cell, thereby preventing infection.
UCLouvain emphasized that this discovery, which was published in the scientific journal Nature Communications on May 10, is sparking hope that an aerosol antiviral therapy can be developed that would eradicate the virus in the case of an infection or a high-risk contact.
For 2 years, the team under David Alsteens, PhD, a researcher at the UCLouvain Institute of Biomolecular Science and Technology, has been working hard to understand the precise molecular mechanisms the virus uses to infect a cell. They investigated the interaction between sialic acids (SAs), a kind of sugar residue present on the surface of cells, and the SARS-CoV-2 spike (S) protein to clarify its role in the infection process.
It was already known that the function of the sugar residues that coat the cells is to promote cell recognition, thus enabling, in particular, viruses to identify their targets more easily, but also to provide them with a point of attachment and to facilitate infection of the cells.
The researchers have now revealed a variant of these sugars that interacts more strongly with the S protein than other sugars do.
In other words, the university explained, they found the set of keys that allows the virus to open the cell door. So, the researchers decided to catch the virus in its own trap, by preventing it from attaching to its host cell. To do this, they blocked the S protein's points of attachment, thus suppressing any interaction with the cell surface, as if a padlock had been placed on the lock on the cell's entry door.
Th researchers added that the advantage of this discovery is that it acts on the virus, irrespective of mutations.
The team of researchers will now conduct tests on mice to apply this blocking of virus binding sites and observe whether it works on the body. The results should make it possible to develop an antiviral therapy administered by aerosol in the case of infection or at-risk contact.
This discovery is also of interest for the future, to counter other viruses with similar attachment factors.
This article was translated from MediQuality.
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Cite this: Researchers Find a Pathway to Prevent COVID Infection - Medscape - May 25, 2022.