Scientists have discovered ‘nano-bubbles’ in the blood of COVID patients – proteins that can act as decoys for the virus, protecting the organs
Despite the innovation and research of global teams, COVID still has no cure.
There are vaccines, which give substantial levels of protection against death and hospitalisation to those who have access to them. There are medicines and treatments that can be administered post-hospitalisation, from antibiotics to keep the blood from infection and intubation to support the creation of oxygen.
The blood of people who survive the virus is known to have antibodies – but depending on which variant, the nature of their illness and how long ago, levels of antibodies vary.
Now, scientists at Northwestern Medicine and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center have identified natural ‘nano-bubbles’ containing the ACE2 protein (evACE2) in the blood of COVID-19 patients.
Co-senior author Dr Raghu Kalluri, chair of cancer biology at MD Anderson said: “We’ve discovered a way to harness this natural defense as a new potential therapy against this devastating virus.”
These nano-sized particles can block infection from broad strains of the virus.
What is an evACE2 protein, how do they work?
Basically, these proteins are a ‘handle’ for the virus to grab onto – these proteins trick COVID into believing that it is entering a real cell. It does this by distracting the virus away from the real ACE2 protein on cells. The ACE2 protein is like a door, which the virus enters to infect a cell.
The evACE2 proteins are tiny lipid (fat) bubbles in nanoparticle size that express the ACE2 protein, which why they are described as handles onto which the virus can grab. The virus spike protein grabs the handle of evACE2 instead of cellular ACE2, preventing it from entering the cell.
Instead of the genuine door, the virus enters a trap.
Once captured, the virus will either float harmlessly around or be cleared by a macrophage immune cell. At that point, it can no longer cause infection.
Who has evACE2 proteins?
The more severe a disease, the higher the levels of evACE2 found in the blood of the COVID patient. According to pre-clinical studies by this team, evACE2 exists in human blood as a natural anti-viral response.
While antibodies also exist, evACE2 proteins are thought to be better at handling a range of variants.
When would this be available?
Not soon, but work is beginning to develop it into a treatment.
Over thirty authors worked together on this research, and now the two key institutions are filing a pending patent on evACE2.
They will then collaborate with industry partners and develop evACE2 as a biological therapeutic product, which will look like a nasal spray or an injection.
“Whenever a new mutant strain of SARS-CoV-2 surges, the original vaccine and therapeutic antibodies may lose power against alpha, beta, delta and the most recent omicron variants,” said study co-senior author Dr. Huiping Liu, an associate professor of pharmacology and of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a Northwestern Medicine physician.
Liu and another co-senior author, Deyu Fang, have launched the startup company Exomira, to take this patent and develop evACE2 as a therapeutic.
Dr Liu further said: “The beauty of evACE2 is its superpower in blocking broad strains of coronaviruses, including the current SARS-CoV-2 and even future SARS coronaviruses from infecting humans.”