BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: Moderna

Optimus Prime, Megatron, Proteins? The New Transformer Vaccine Candidate!

Amid the global outbreak of COVID-19, with no end in sight after nearly two years, the future wellbeing of humans is in danger. Coughs, fevers, and shortness of breath have lent way to millions of deaths across the globe. As thousands of researchers relentlessly work to find solutions to this virus, multiple vaccine candidates have emerged. Specifically, in the United States, millions of Americans have received doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccines. However, scientists at Scripps Research recently recognized a new, self-assembling COVID-19 vaccine as a potentially more efficient and effective way to fight this worldwide battle.

 

Primarily, it is critical to understand how vaccines function as they help protect the immune system. The COVID-19 vaccines currently in effect are mRNA-based; in other words, the messenger RNA signals one’s body to produce a harmless viral protein that resembles the structure of a spike protein. The body, with the help of T-Helper cells, recognizes this structure as a foreign invader as B cells bind to and identify the antigen. The T-Helper cells will then signal these B cells to form B-Plasma cells and B-Memory cells. When getting the vaccine, the B-Memory cells are especially important as they prevent reinfection. This is a process known as adaptive immunity. Here, in the event of future infection with the spike-protein COVID-19, the memory cells would help carry out the same response more quickly and efficiently. Essentially, this process acts as the body’s training in case of any future infections.

 

While the Scripps Research COVID-19 vaccine would evoke a similar immune response to that described above, it differs from other candidates in how it assembles in the human body; this new vaccine would be comprised of proteins that are able to self-assemble. On their own, these nanoparticle proteins would transform into a sphere protein structure surrounded by smaller proteins, mimicking the coronavirus’s shape. Here, the self-assembled spike proteins are more sturdy and stable than in an mRNA-produced structure. Thus, it more accurately prepares the body for future infection with COVID-19. In fact, multiple tests found that mice who were given the experimental vaccine were able to fight off not only SARS-CoV-2 but also SARS-CoV1 along with the alpha, beta and gamma variants.

 

Nonetheless, influencing the public to get a newer vaccine instead of the well-trusted vaccines already in production requires proof of the candidate’s benefits. Primarily, as mentioned, early results find that this new candidate would perform well with many different strains of COVID-19. Additionally, researchers assert that this vaccine would be relatively simple to produce on a mass scale. Lastly, scientists found that this vaccine may well be more protective and long-lasting than current vaccine candidates. Although the process of vaccine approval is lengthy and often difficult, I am hopeful for the future of the Scripps Research vaccine if it is put into production. Moreover, I believe that such experimentation with self-assembling nanoparticle proteins transcends the current pandemic. The benefits of this field present a wide array of opportunities, and I look forward to seeing what its future may hold.

 

What do you think? Are these transformer-like self-assembling particles a gateway to the future of medicine or an unnecessary distraction from effective treatments already in circulation?

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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