JUN 20, 2020 5:02 PM PDT

Antibodies Isolated From COVID-19 Patients Show Therapeutic Potential

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Communities worldwide are emerging from lockdowns due to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic virus, and it remains to be seen whether enough people will continue to wear masks, practice social-distancing, and take hygiene measures that are strong enough to stave off increases in infections. So far, the statistics in the United States are indicating that cases of the illness caused by the virus, COVID-19, will continue to increase.

Worldwide, over 400,000 people have died from COVID-19. Researchers have been searching for ways to reduce the death rate and find treatments for the infection. There is hope in dexamethasone, but it is only useful in severe cases and it does not work for every patient. A vaccine is also still a long way off.

A team of researchers is getting us closer to another treatment option - potent antibodies that have been found in the blood of people who recovered from COVID-19. These antibodies were found to protect cells growing in culture from the virus. The findings, which are paving the way to clinical trials that test these antibodies as preventive medications and treatments for active cases, have been reported in Science.

“The discovery of these very potent antibodies represents an extremely rapid response to a totally new pathogen,” said the study co-senior author Dennis Burton, Ph.D., the James and Jessie Minor Chair in Immunology in the Department of Immunology & Microbiology at Scripps Research.

It's possible that these antibodies could one day be administered to patients in the early phase of a COVID-19 infection so that severe disease is less likely, and virus levels are lowered. The antibodies could potentially be used as a kind of temporary vaccine, a prophylactic that could be given to those that may have been exposed, or who are at high risk, for example.

If antibodies that effectively neutralize the virus can be identified, it is likely that they could also be mass-produced and distributed for use once they're tested. This approach has helped in outbreaks of Ebola and respiratory syncytial virus.

“It has been a tremendous collaborative effort, and we’re now focused on making large quantities of these promising antibodies for clinical trials,” noted the study co-lead author Thomas Rogers, M.D., Ph.D., an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Immunology & Microbiology at Scripps Research, and assistant professor of Medicine at UC San Diego. The research was quickly performed by teams at Scripps Research; IAVI, a nonprofit scientific research organization; and the University of California San Diego School of Medicine.

In this work, the researchers isolated antibodies from people that recovered from COVID-19 infections that ranged from mild to severe. They also created a test to determine whether cells that express a receptor that promotes viral infection, ACE2, were protected from infection by these antibodies. Over 1,000 antibody-producing cells were collected, and they were analyzed individually. Several blocked the virus in the cell culture model, and one was effective in a hamster model of heavy virus exposure.

“We leveraged our institution's decades of expertise in antibody isolation and quickly pivoted our focus to SARS-CoV-2 to identify these highly potent antibodies,” said study co-author Elise Landais, Ph.D., an IAVI principal scientist.

The researchers suggested that if safety tests go well, clinics may be able to try these antibodies in patients as soon as January.

Colorized scanning electron micrograph of an apoptotic cell (green) heavily infected with SARS-COV-2 virus particles (orange), isolated from a patient sample. Image at the NIAID Integrated Research Facility (IRF) in Fort Detrick, Maryland. / Credit: NIAID

“We intend to make them available to those who need them most, including people in low- and middle-income countries,” Landais added.

The research also happened to reveal an antibody that can protect against SARS, which caused a viral outbreak in 2002. “That discovery gives us hope that we will eventually find broadly neutralizing antibodies that provide at least partial protection against all or most SARS coronaviruses, which should be useful if another one jumps to humans,” Burton said.

Another study has suggested that antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus tend to be short-lived - though that does not mean immunity is. More research will also be needed to understand how immunity against this virus will work in different people.

Sources: Scripps Research, Science

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
SEP 13, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Men and Women Express Many Genes at Different Levels
SEP 13, 2020
Men and Women Express Many Genes at Different Levels
Most humans carry the same genes in their genome, but how are genes expressed differently in men and women?
OCT 06, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
How a Carnivorous Plant Creates a 'Memory'
OCT 06, 2020
How a Carnivorous Plant Creates a 'Memory'
The Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) is a famous carnivorous plant that can capture and consume insects and even small ...
OCT 20, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
The Gene Behind the Glow of the Sea Pickle is ID'ed
OCT 20, 2020
The Gene Behind the Glow of the Sea Pickle is ID'ed
In this photo by OceanX, researchers off the coast of Brazil collected Pyrosoma atlanticum specimens with a special robo ...
OCT 28, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
Mimicking Cells With a Microfluidic Chip
OCT 28, 2020
Mimicking Cells With a Microfluidic Chip
Cell culture models are one way for scientists to learn more about biology. But cells grow in large cultures that are of ...
NOV 11, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
Visualizing a Tumor Suppressor in Action
NOV 11, 2020
Visualizing a Tumor Suppressor in Action
Many types of cells in our bodies are short-lived and need to be replenished. Cell division has to be carefully controll ...
NOV 19, 2020
Cardiology
Examining a Possible Link Between Atherosclerosis and Inflammation
NOV 19, 2020
Examining a Possible Link Between Atherosclerosis and Inflammation
The immune system’s primary duty is to protect the body from dangerous invaders. Many don’t know that it als ...
Loading Comments...