University: Research Team Developed ‘Breakthrough Technology’ That Could Block Coronavirus From Infecting Human Cells
In this photo illustration a mobile phone screens display the Netflix logo on a coronavirus COVID-19 illustration graphic background , March 31, 2020 in Arlington, Virginia.
Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

A team of researchers at the University of Louisville say they have developed a technology that could prevent the COVID-19 virus from infecting human cells by blocking its ability to replicate itself inside the body.

The researchers’ findings were reported Wednesday by the University of Louisville’s UofL News’ Baylee Pulliam, who covers research and innovation at the university. The “breakthrough technology,” writes Pulliam, “is believed to block the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 from infecting human cells.”

“The technology is based on a piece of synthetic DNA – an ‘aptamer’ –  which targets and binds with a human protein called nucleolin,” Pulliam explains. “Early tests show that this aptamer may stop viruses, including novel coronavirus, from ‘hijacking’ nucleolin to replicate inside the body.”

Because of the promising results of their early testing, the university is seeking to “fast-track development, including application to the Food and Drug Administration for approval to start treating patients seriously affected with COVID-19,” Pulliam writes.

The University of Louisville’s Paula Bates, John Trent and Don Miller, have applied the aptamer in multiple ways,  Pulliam explains, including as a potential therapeutic drug for some types of cancer.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Bates, a professor of medicine, partnered with Kenneth Palmer, director of the university’s Center for Predictive Medicine for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases (CPM), to see how the synthetic DNA would impact SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

“I am fortunate to be at UofL, which is one of the few places in the country where we have the facilities to do experiments using the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” said Bates. The university, Pulliam reports, houses the Regional Biocontainment Laboratory, which is one of just two national biocontainment labs in the country.

Palmer was able to demonstrate through experiments that the aptamer “was effective against the virus at doses previous research has shown to be safe in patient,” writes Pulliam.

Along with helping to test the aptamer as a potential treatment for COVID-19, Palmer also is working on Q-Griffithsin, another potential treatment. (Read UofL News’ full report here.)

While the University of Louisville’s researchers have found the aptamer to have potential in combating COVID-19, separate studies have also found positive results from other potential treatments. Last week, Gilead Sciences revealed its early findings on tests of its antiviral medicine Remdesivir involving 125 people. Nearly all of the patients who were treated at a Chicago hospital with the antiviral drug experienced “rapid recoveries in fever and respiratory symptoms” and were “discharged in less than a week,” as reported by STAT:

Remdesivir was one of the first medicines identified as having the potential to impact SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19, in lab tests. The entire world has been waiting for results from Gilead’s clinical trials, and positive results would likely lead to fast approvals by the Food and Drug Administration and other regulatory agencies. If safe and effective, it could become the first approved treatment against the disease.

The University of Chicago Medicine recruited 125 people with Covid-19 into Gilead’s two Phase 3 clinical trials. Of those people, 113 had severe disease. All the patients have been treated with daily infusions of remdesivir.

The University of Chicago’s Kathleen Mullane, an infectious disease specialist heading up the study, said that only two of the 125 severely ill patients died, while most of them have already been discharged. While the early results look promising, however, researchers stressed that the study is not extensive enough to draw conclusions.

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