ST. LOUIS — The virus that causes COVID-19 can only be studied under high-level biosafety conditions, which can slow down efforts to find vaccines since many scientists don’t have access to the required facilities.
So, to help remedy that, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine have developed a hybrid virus that can be handled under ordinary laboratory safety conditions, according to a press release.
Researchers genetically modified a mild virus by swapping one of its genes for one from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The study is available online in Cell Host & Microbe.
“I’ve never had this many requests for a scientific material in such a short period of time,” said Sean Whelan, head of the Department of Molecular Microbiology. “We’ve distributed the virus to researchers in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Canada and, of course, all over the U.S. We have requests pending from the U.K. and Germany. Even before we published, people heard that we were working on this and started requesting the material.”
How the hybrid virus could be used:
- It can help scientists evaluate a range of antibody-based preventives and treatments for COVID-19
- Assess whether an experimental vaccine elicits neutralizing antibodies to see if a COVID-19 survivor carries enough neutralizing antibodies to donate plasma to patients
- Identify antibodies with the potential to be developed into antiviral drugs
“One of the problems in evaluating neutralizing antibodies is that a lot of these tests require a BSL-3 facility, and most clinical labs and companies don’t have BSL-3 facilities,” said Michael S. Diamond, the Herbert S. Gasser Professor of Medicine. “With this surrogate virus, you can take serum, plasma or antibodies and do high-throughput analyses at BSL-2 levels, which every lab has, without a risk of getting infected. And we know that it correlates almost perfectly with the data we get from bona fide infectious SARS-CoV-2.”
Diamond said the hybrid virus is a potential vaccine candidate since it looks like SARS-CoV-2 to the immune system but doesn’t cause severe disease.
Click here for more information on the hybrid virus.
More Coronavirus Coverage
- These St. Louis area restaurants are temporarily closed again due to the coronavirus
- These St. Louis area schools have released their reopening plans
- Is it safe to go to the gym during the coronavirus pandemic?
- ‘They’re going to go home and they’re going to get over it’ | Gov. Parson talks about kids and coronavirus ahead of schools reopening
- St. Louis County leader urges parents to choose virtual learning this fall
- How churches are dealing with recent rise in COVID-19 cases