TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A Taiwanese team of scientists has discovered 25 antibodies in patients infected with Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) that could be used to develop rapid test kits and medication to treat or prevent the deadly virus.
Researchers from Chang Gung Memorial Hospital and other institutes have identified 25 strains of Monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) in three patients infected with COVID-19. These newly discovered antibodies not only enable the development of a 30-minute screening kit, but one of them could potentially inhibit the virus from entering the body, paving the way for medication.
After two-and-a-half months of hard work, a team of scientists from Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, Academia Sinica, the National Defense Medical Center, and Oxford University isolated 22 strains of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and fully sequenced its genome, reported CNA. These strains came from all over the world, and the fruits of the team's labors will be used to create test reagents, antiviral medications, and possibly even a vaccine.
CNA cited the team's leader, Huang Kuan-ying (黃冠穎), a resident physician at Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, as saying that B cells are a kind of white blood cell that the body uses to make antibodies. The research team found 25 mAbs produced by the immune system to fight against COVID-19 within the B cells of three patients with the disease, including 13 strains that hone in on the spike protein (S) of the coronavirus as well as 12 strains that attack the virus' nucleocapsid protein (N).
Huang said that because the antibodies can identify the virus, they can be used in two applications: as a test reagent and treatment. Thirteen of the 25 mAbs are able to combine with the spike protein on the surface of the virus, making them suitable for the development of a rapid screening kit that could yield results in as few as 30 minutes.
As for treatment, Huang said that a single antibody can be considered a "magic bullet" to treat some infectious diseases. The research team found one strain can preemptively bind to angiotensin converting enzyme-2 (ACE2), a receptor on the cell membrane, blocking the virus from entering the body.
Huang explained that to enter the cell, the virus must combine with the ACE2 receptor, and he compared the receptor to a door: "If the virus opens the door first, the body will be infected; if the antibody opens the door together with the virus antigen, the antibody wins and has a chance of inhibiting the virus from entering the cell," said Huang.
ACE2 is the main doorway for coronaviruses, as it is affixed to the membrane of cells in the lungs, heart, kidneys, arteries, and intestine.
Shih Shin-ru (施信如), a professor at Chang Gung University's Research Center for Emerging Viral Infections, said that because of the antibody's ability to keep the virus out of cells, it could potentially be used in a vaccine if it is validated in human trials in the future, reported UDN. Shih said that because it is an antibody generated by a human patient, it would be safer to use than one from another species.