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New molecule to block COVID-19 infection

The newly developed molecule is not a vaccine but a potential treatment modality that can be used to treat COVID-19 infection. (Photo: Canva)

Thu. 16 December 2021


With newer variants emerging and challenging our previously acquired immunity and creating worldwide uncertainty, there is an urgent need for antiviral treatments that will block the virus from entering the cells & infecting them. Aarhus University researchers have developed a new molecule - "RNA aptamer" - that attaches to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. This attachment prevents the ability of spike protein to recognize ACE2 receptors, thereby preventing its cell entry & infection.

The new molecule belongs to a class of compounds known as RNA aptamers.

An aptamer is a DNA or RNA piece that folds into a 3D structure. It can recognize a specific target molecule. Here the target molecule is the spike protein present on the virus surface.

Since they are based on the same type of building blocks that are used for mRNA vaccines, they are much cheaper and easier to manufacture than the antibodies currently being used to treat Covid-19.

RNA aptamer is not a vaccine. It's a post-exposure treatment modality that can stop the virus from spreading in the body after someone is exposed to the virus.

Cell culture studies have shown that the aptamer works against the earlier variants of SARS-CoV-2. It recognizes Delta variant. However, it has yet to be tested against Omicron variant.

The efficient binding of RNA aptamer to the SARS-CoV-2 surface means that we can use it to test for covid-19 infection.

Reference: A serum-stable RNA aptamer specific for SARS-CoV-2 neutralizes viral entry” by Julián Valero, Laia Civit, Daniel M. Dupont, Denis Selnihhin, Line S. Reinert, Manja Idorn, Brett A. Israels, Aleksandra M. Bednarz, Claus Bus, Benedikt Asbach, David Peterhoff, Finn S. Pedersen, Victoria Birkedal, Ralf Wagner, Søren R. Paludan and Jørgen Kjems, 7 December 2021, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2112942118

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