BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: COVID-19 vaccine

The COVID-19 Vaccine: How, What, and Why

We have all seen the news lately – COVID, COVID, and more COVID! Should people get the vaccine? What about the booster shot? Are vaccines more harmful than COVID-19? Will my child have birth-defects? This blog post will (hopefully) answer most of your questions and clear up a very confusing topic of discussion!

Discovery of monoclonal antibodies that inhibit new coronavirus(Wuhan virus)

First off, what are some potential effects of COVID-19? They include, but are certainly not limited to, shortness of breath, joint pain, chest pain, loss of taste, fever, organ damage, blood clots, blood vessel problems, memory loss, hearing loss tinnitus, anosmia, attention disorder, and the list goes on. So, our next question naturally is: what are the common effects of the COVID-19 Vaccine? On the arm that an individual receives the vaccine the symptoms include pain, redness, and swelling. Throughout the body, tiredness, a headache, muscle pain, chills, fever, and nausea can be experienced. To me, these effects seem much less severe than COVID-19’s!

COVID-19 immunizations begin

Now that we have covered effects, you are probably wondering what exactly the COVID-19 Vaccine does – will it make it impossible for me to get COVID-19? Will I have superpowers? Well, you may not get superpowers, but your cells will certainly have a new weapon, which we will discuss in the next paragraph! The COVID-19 Vaccine reduces “the risk of COVID-19, including severe illness by 90 percent or more among people who are fully vaccinated,” reduces the overall spread of disease, and can “also provide protection against COVID-19 infections without symptoms” (asymptomatic cases) (Covid-19 Vaccines Work).

So, how does the vaccine work? Many people think that all vaccines send a small part of the disease into us so our cells learn how to fight it at a smaller scale. However, this is not the case with the COVID-19 vaccine! As we learned in biology class, COVID-19 Vaccines are mRNA vaccines which use mRNA (genetic material that tells our cells to produce proteins) wrapped in a layer of fat to attach to cells. This bubble of fat wrapped mRNA enters a dendritic cell through phagocytosis. Once inside of the cell, the fat falls off the mRNA and the strand is read by ribosomes (a protein maker) in the cytoplasm. A dendritic cell is a special part of the immune system because it is able to display epitopes on MHC proteins on its surface.

Corona-Virus

After being made by the ribosomes, pieces of the viral surface protein are displayed on the surface of the dendritic cell (specifically the MHC protein), and the cell travels to lymph nodes to show this surface protein. At the lymph nodes, it shows the epitope to other cells of the immune system including T-Helper Cells. The T-Helper Cells see what they’re dealing with and create an individualized response which they relay to T-Killer cells that attack and kill virus-infected cells. This individualized response is also stored in T-Memory cells so that if you do end up getting COVID-19, your body will already know how to fight it! The T-Helper Cells additionally gather B-Plasma cells to make antibodies that will keep COVID-19 from ever entering your cells. T-Helper Cells are amazing! As you can see, the vaccine never enters your nucleus, so it cannot effect your DNA! No birth-defects are possible!

You are now equipped with so much information and able to disregard many common misconceptions about the COVID-19 vaccine! Additionally, you can make an educated decision about whether or not you should get the vaccine. I think yes! If you have any questions, please feel free to comment them and I will answer. Thanks for reading!

 

How Mice and Mental Health Led to This COVID-19 Treatment Breakthrough

Ever since the initial outbreak of COVID-19, scientists have worked tirelessly to innovate and find the antidote to the virus which has infected millions and tragically killed hundreds of thousands. Such unprecedented times have led researchers to reconsider everything they already know and take intellectual risks.

One innovator whose experimental hypothesis may save many is Angela Reiersen, a child psychiatrist from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. When she fell ill with COVID-19 in March 2020, Reiersen thought back to a study she had read about the effects of the lack of the sigma-1 receptor in mice and how the lack of this receptor protein led to massive inflammation and overproduction of cytokines. Cytokines are a part of the inflammatory response that occurs when pathogens sneak past the barrier defenses of the innate immune system and permeate cells. Upon entry of a pathogen, mast cells secrete histamines and macrophages secrete these cytokines. These cytokines attract neutrophils which then digest and kill the pathogens and other cell debris. Although cytokines are crucial to a functioning immune system, overproduction of cytokines can be extremely dangerous as it can lead to septic shock, in which the immune system becomes extremely overactive. This has become the cause of death for many COVID-19 patients.

As a psychiatrist, Reiersen worked regularly with SSRIS, or selective serotonin uptake inhibitors, in the treatment of conditions like depression and obsessive compulsive disorder. SSRIs help the human brain by increasing the level of serotonin available between nerve cells, but they also activate the S1R in the Endoplasmic Reticulum. Reiersen wondered, if the lack of the S1R causes fatal levels of inflammation, can we prevent extreme inflammation from COVID-19 through the use of SSRIs?

There have been multiple studies performed to test this line of reasoning, both including and independent of Reiersen. The most notable study was performed as part of TOGETHER, an international organization seeking to test possible unorthodox treatments for COVID-19. The trial was a collaboration between researchers from McMaster University of Canada and Cardresearch, a research clinic located in Brazil. The team in Brazil located 1,497 unvaccinated adults who were deemed “high risk” for COVID complications in their first week of showing symptoms of COVID. Conducted at 11 different research sites in Brazil from January to August, the study provided participants with a 10 days supply of either 100 milligrams of fluvoxamine, an SSRI, or a placebo pill. The researchers monitored the participants for 28 days after, as well.

In the end, 15.7% of participants who were given a placebo pill ended up having major complications from COVID-19, compared to 10.1% of participants who were given fluvoxamine. The gap may seem slight, but this is because not all patients took their full dosage due to gastrointestinal complaints. However, out of patients who completed their course of medication, 66% were safe from any complications and the mortality rate was cut by 91%!

Thanks to the research of Reiersen and many others, fluvoxamine is now considered a solid treatment plan for COVID-19 infections, especially in high risk individuals. As COVID-19 continues to infect millions around the world, who knows what new scientific breakthroughs will be made?

“US braces for Omicron!”…Whats all the hubbub really about?

I was studying for AP Bio one day, when I first heard about the fears around the omicron variant. All over instagram, facebook, I even received emails about it: there seems to be major concern among many, including prominent medical researchers, according to WHO.

World Health Organization Logo

“What is the omicron variant?” You may ask.  This variant was first reported from South Africa  Wednesday, November 24th. In the recent weeks, cases of infection have been increasing rapidly in South Africa, likely as a result of this mutated variant. According to WHO, this variant has a large number of concerning mutations (discussed in detail below), some of which increase the risk of infection. Luckily, current SARS-CoV-2 PCR tests still can be used as a marker in detecting this new omicron variant. Because of this fact, officials have been able to detect this variant faster than previous surges in infection cases.

OmicronDespite being able to detect this variant faster than previously, researchers are still concerned over the mutations this variant poses and the implications that could have in this pandemic. Being the fastest spreading variant yet, some of these concerns include the specific mutations on the spike proteins. As we learned before, Spike Proteins protrude from the SARS-CoV-2 cell, allowing for it to bind to receptors on the host cell. Penny Moore, a virologist at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, says there are more than 30 mutations to the spike protein in omicron, which could possibly make it more contagious and/or allow this variant to evade our vaccines. 

Many of the mutations detected on the omicron variant have been found in the delta and Alpha variants, and are linked to heightened infections, as well as the ability to evade infection-blocking antibodies and other immune responses. Mutations to regions of the spike protein in the omicron variant has changed the way the antibodies recognize the pathogens, hindering their ability to bind to the spike proteins. If the spike proteins have mutated and changed shape, then the antibodies will not be as effective in binding. Additionally, hints from computer modeling have revealed the omicron variant could dodge the immunity given by the T cells. However, Scientists have yet to understand the true significance of these mutations and what it means for the response to the pandemic. Penny Moore and her team hope to have their first results in two weeks. 

What does this mean for vaccine efficacy?

Solo-mrna-vaccine-4 Well, two quarantined travelers in Hong Kong have tested positive for the omicron variant despite being vaccinated using the Pfizer vaccine. Additionally, Moore says that breakthrough infections have been reported in South Africa among people who have received the vaccine. Again, researchers in South Africa will soon find whether this omicron variant causes illness that is more severe or milder than that produced by the other variants. We should hear their results soon. According to Researchers, the greater threat that this omicron variant poses beyond South Africa is unclear. In the meantime, a way to fight for a healthy future would be to continually take the measures necessary to reduce the risk of COVID-19, including proven public health measures such as wearing masks, hand hygiene, social distancing, and getting vaccinated.

Let me know your thoughts below on this new variant! Stay Safe!

 

You don’t know Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett!? Read This!!

Overview

Who is Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett? Nature Medicine published an article on October 19th, 2020 titled “The duty to mentor, be visible and represent” which answers this question. Dr. Corbett is a research fellow for the Coronavirus vaccines and Immunopathogenesis Team at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Vaccine Research Center (VRC). An additional article published by the American Society for Microbiology titled “Kizzmekia S. Corbett, Ph.D.” outlines her vast career achievements.

Personal Background

Kizzmekia Corbett is a Black woman who grew up in North Carolina, where she attended grade school. Dr. Corbett is a first generation college graduate who was unfamiliar with careers in science most of her young life, until she met a mentor who inspired her to dive into a scientific career. She was sixteen years old attending public school when she discovered her passion for science. As her parents encouraged her to do during her high school years, Dr. Corbett had a summer internship with American Chemical Society’s Project SEED program, where she researched at a lab of the University of North Carolina. As mentioned above, Corbett came out of this program with a mentor who changed the path of her life. PhD candidate Albert Russel, a Black man, ignited a passion and sense of possibility in Corbett to achieve her goals in STEM, regardless of her gender or race. She also learned the importance of mentorship in success and understanding in the field of science. Short after, she attended the University of Maryland where she graduated, in 2008, with Bachelor of science degree in Biological Studies, and a secondary major in Sociology. She also graduated as a Meyerhoff Scholar and an NIH undergraduate scholar. Later in 2014, she completed her Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology. From this mentorship, she now feels a duty to inspire the youth of aspiring scientists. She is vigorously passionate about inclusivity in the field, and supporting those from underrepresented or underprivileged backgrounds. She is fulfilling her wish by mentoring students in the National Institutes of Health HiStep 2.0 program. She believes that exploring interest in science at a young age is extremely important.

“As I trek through my scientific career, making novel discoveries, climbing what seems to be a never-ending ladder, I am reminded of my other duties…to mentor…to be visible…to represent.” –Kizzmekia Corbet

Career Accomplishments/ Advancements in COVID-19

She is currently a research fellow for the Coronavirus Vaccines and Immunopathogenesis Team at the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Vaccine Research Center. As an immunologist, she and her team have been committed to developing coronavirus vaccines. Dr. Corbett’s team partnered with Moderna, Inc. to develop the mRNA-1273 vaccine. The FDA, Food and Drug Administration, approved the clinical trial of the mRNA-1273 vaccine. Dr. Corbett and her team have completed extensive research and have made several important findings regarding coronavirus vaccines and antibodies. The Moderna mRNA-1273 vaccine has since– January–  been approved by the FDA and distributed to the public!

Where to next? She is currently in Phase 1 of a clinical trial to develop a universal influenza vaccine. Another one of her goals is to become an independent principal investigator.

It is clear that Kizzmekia S. Corbett is a brilliant, accomplished individual who only has more goals to achieve within the science community! Let me know what you think of her story in the comment, and if this story sparks and additional interest in you!

Kizzmekia Corbett Continuing to Make COVID-19 Advancements

We are all restlessly thinking about how soon life will go back to the way it was before COVID.  Thankfully, there are people like Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett who are working tirelessly to make that happen soon.

Corbett is an immunologist and research fellow who has continuously proven herself to be an extremely dominant and essential figure in the advancements towards the development of the COVID-19 vaccine. Corbett, also known as Kizzy, is a woman of color in the science field who was and is a key leader on the team that worked with Moderna to release a vaccine to the public. With quite an extensive background, Corbett was more than qualified to do so. Since the age of sixteen, she has emerged herself in various scientific opportunities, due to the fact that her parents were always pushing her to further her education with everything she spent time doing. One of the opportunities Corbett had taken part in was a select program called Project SEEDS at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. There, she was able to study chemistry in professional labs and indulge herself in her interests. This is where she met her mentor, Albert Russell.

Albert Russell was a huge inspiration to Corbett. She describes that Russell “planted a seed that summer (at Chapel Hill) by taking time away from his experiments to mentor [her].” Since then, Corbett leads her work with an African-American proverb as her mentoring philosophy, “each one teach one.” She believes that it is her “duty to particularly mentor people of diverse underrepresented backgrounds.” Her goal is to expose young minds to the science field and give hope to people of color interested in pursuing a career in science. Corbett states that her responsibility as a woman of color in her field is “to mentor, to be visible, and to represent” the underrepresented. 

Corbett “is right at the forefront of the development of the vaccine” according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, a person working with Corbett and the NIH. Corbett played major roles in the development of the vaccine, and continues to do so. Her and her team worked quickly to “identify the SARS-CoV-2 genetic sequence it would need to make a vaccine for COVID-19.” Corbett worked with the group to perform tests on animals for clinical trials, and set a plan to achieve their goal. From there, she helped design the vaccine. 

Aside from actually designing the vaccine, Corbett is playing another extremely important role during this global pandemic. She takes the time to deliver speeches to communities of people of color. Corbett educates people who may not know much about vaccines or understand science that well. This is crucial due to the fact that studies show that “COVID-19 has affected Black, Native American and Latino American people at higher rates than white people, for reasons rooted in racism and historical segregation,” yet many do not trust the vaccine. People are skeptical due to how fast the vaccine was created, and thus many have said that they would not be receiving it. Corbett is using her position, knowledge, and power to educate these people and reassure them that the vaccine is 100% safe, as she stated, I could never sleep at night if I developed anything — if any product of my science came out — and it did not equally benefit the people that look like me. Period.”

Corbett is also using social media platforms to inform the public and update them on the vaccine’s progress. She encourages and informs her followers on her twitter, @KizzyPhD

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