BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: Vaccine (Page 1 of 2)

The Promise of Messenger RNA Therapy

A recent article about messenger RNA therapy outlines the evolution of messenger RNA therapy and how it has gone from an idea to a globally used treatment in just the past seventeen years. Recently, messenger RNA therapies such as the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines have been used by hundreds of millions of people around the world. 

The author Drew Weissman, a vaccine research professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and his colleague Katalin Karikó created mRNA molecules back in 2005 that would not cause harm when injected into animal tissue. Then in 2017, Weissman and Norbert Pardi found that this mRNA creation could be brought into human cells through a fatlike nanoparticle without harm, and that bringing this modified mRNA in protect mRNA from being broken down by the body and resulted in the immune system generating antibodies and more effectively neutralize the invading virus. Vaccines-09-00065-g001This mRNA fatlike nanoparticle is known as mRNA-LNP (pictured to the left). mRNA is able to enter cells without harm because it is carried in by this liquid nanoparticle which is known for its role in transportation. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines use this mRNA-LNP, and in clinical trials have shown to successfully prevent over 90% of treated people from contracting COVID-19.

The positive results from many trials and studies of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines have provided a lot of information on the success of mRNA-LNP. It has been found that mRNA-LNP is much more effective and quicker than other approaches to COVID-19 treatments such as growing vaccines in laboratory cell cultures. 

41541 2020 159 Fig1 HTMLMessenger RNA therapy works by making cells create proteins that induce a reaction from the immune system in response to invading viruses (pictured to the right). This reaction in response to invading viruses is called the humoral response, where cytotoxic T cells are made to release proteins that destroy infected cells. The humoral response also trains the immune system to respond to and attack that virus in the future by creating memory B cells to recognize it, which is called a secondary immune response.  This method of instructing cells to create these proteins yields a greater quantity at a time that conventional protein and monoclonal antibody therapies. 

The success of messenger RNA therapy in COVID-19 vaccines has inspired the further research and use of this method for other viruses, as well as cancers, food, allergies, and autoimmune diseases, and many clinical trials are underway. Messenger RNA therapy could be a much more time and cost efficient alternative for a lot of conditions and treatments. More research still needs to be done, and there are many improvements that could be made (such as smaller doses of or a better supply chain for the vaccine), but overall messenger RNA therapy is very promising for treatments of the future.

Omicron’s Effect on the Vaccinated by Vaccination Status

As the world continues to be stricken by the seemingly everlasting wave of strains of Sars-Cov-2, the vaccine began to give people hope as it was extremely effective against the original disease as well as all the other strains up until now. With sudden jump in corona cases, researchers have discovered that there is a new virus that is soon to take over as the most prevalent virus in the world. It’s been named Omicron but the question that is on a lot of people’s mind is if this new strain will be hindered by the vaccine or will it continue on its rampage across the world.

Study Participant Receives NIAID-GSK Candidate Ebola Vaccine (3)

Studies show that the answer is dependent on vaccination status. Omicron has accounted for “90% of COVID cases in areas like the Midwest” states Doctor Rochelle Walensky. The article later goes on to state that the booster vaccination shot ” increased by 25-fold people’s levels of virus-fighting antibodies.” Ultimately the amount of vulnerability you have to this new strain is directly tied to how many vaccination shot you have. But why do we even need a booster shot if the first two doses should have been enough? Well to answer this question we first need to look at how the initial two doses work. The CDC states that “Vaccines work by stimulating your immune system to produce antibodies, exactly like it would if you were exposed to the disease.”  As we learned in our AP Biology class, by giving you a small amount of sars-cov-2, the dendritic cell is able to enlist the help of plasma B cells and memory B cells by sending out T helper cells. This is known as theHumorale Immunantwort humoral response and is what gives you the ability to fight off breakthrough infections as well as help hinder the symptoms of sars-cov-2. It is able to suppress symptoms as well as prevent reinfections because once your body has fought off a little bit of the virus with the antibodies created by B helper cells your body is able to make a copy of how to deal with it in your B memory cells. The memory B cells are what give you your immunity to the virus. However over time they do run out as you were only given a small amount of the virus so this is where the booster comes into affect. The booster shot is designed so that your body is able to continue to get stimulated by the virus so that you B plasma and helper cells are able to keep memorizing and keep fighting off small (in the case of the vaccine) or big (in the case of an actual infection) Covid cases. There may continue to be more booster that you must take in order to keep your immunity, and no its not because the chip is running out of battery or they want to keep injecting you, but its due to the fact that your body simply can’t remember such a small amount of the virus for very long and if you don’t get the booster you are 25x more likely to contract Omicron than those who have all three. Ultimately the vaccine is still effective against Omicron, however Omicrons ability to be more infectious than any other variant before it is why it was able to take over the world so quickly. That being said there is a very real possibility that there will be a Omicron centered booster shot that will be significantly more effective than the past three shots against this devastating variant. Feel free to let me know how you feel about Omicron, a special new booster, or about how that Vaccine works down below.

 

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?

Jet Injectors: Getting Your Vaccine Without Needles

Typically, when you get injections at the doctors office, whether it is a flu shot or any number of vaccines that one is advised to take, it is usually injected via syringe/needle. However, there is an alternative way to give people the medication required that doesn’t involve a needle. This is achieved by using a Jet Injector, and this may be more favorable for people who have trypanophobia.

Before understanding and diving into the Jet Injector, we should take a look at how the traditional needle injections work. These injections are doing through syringes. Syringes are “pump[s] consisting of a sliding plunger that fits tightly in a tube.” These syringes, in the medical field, are filled with some vaccine or other fluid that is meant for injection into the body. The syringe was invented in 1853, and is still the main form of medical injections today. These have been so popular and efficient that some people label syringes as the “greatest medical device of all time.”

I’m sure many are no strangers to this syringe, especially with the increased use of them due to their importance in being the delivery system for the COVID-19 vaccine. The syringe is used to get the mRNA vaccine into the blood stream. As talked about in our bio class lessons, the vaccines contents need to be able to reach cells (in this case within the arm) in order to instruct them to produce antibodies  that latch onto the spike protein of COVID-19.

Despite the syringe being widely used and very efficient, it is just not suitable for everybody. For some people they just have trypanophobia and prefer not to use it, while others are better off without it. This is where Jet Injectors come in. Jet Injectors are an alternative to a syringe that do the same job. Jet injectors use a “narrow, high-pressure stream of liquid [that] penetrates the outermost layer of the skin to deliver medication.” These Jet Injectors are either powered by springs or compressed gas (varies based on manufacturer). These found good use in the military as it required less maintenance to use than changing out the needle after each injection. Although that was a use of the Jet Injector in the past, they are currently used as an alternative to the syringe for injection Flu Vaccination.

Luckily, the side effects of the Jet Injector is similar to that of the syringe: soreness, bruising, itching, and redness. So, if you are someone who is not too fond of needles, the Jet Injector could be the solution for you if your doctor has one.

Needle in a Haystack

Immunization is defined as the action of making a person immune to infection by the process of inoculation. While the COVID-19 vaccine may be new, vaccines have actually been around for a lot longer than you may think. We’re used to getting vaccines through needles when we go to the doctors office, but what if I told you that that’s not the only way to receive one. Hundreds of years ago, Buddhist monks actually used to drink snake venom in order to build immunity to it. Though more formally, Edward Jenner is considered the founder of vaccinology after successfully inoculating a 13 year old boy in 1796 with a smallpox vaccine. The 13 year old actually demonstrated immunity and the first small pox vaccine was officially developed in 1798. While that may be just a brief recount of the history of vaccines, the significance of their revolutionary effects will follow humanity to the end of time. Through vaccines we’ve immunized viruses such as Chicken Pox, Polio, Influenza, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, HPV, Measles and many more. These viruses plagued the world in the past, but many of them are now obsolete.

While these vaccines may be different in nature, they all have one similarity… They are administered through needles. The “proper” term inoculation, however it is not specified how the virus needs to be administered. Monks used to drink snake venom and that was considered inoculation. So that begs the question… Does a needle really need to inject a vaccine? The answer is no.

The sterility of each batch of vaccine is tested before it leaves the laboratory. USPHS (United States Public Health Service) Rocky Mountain Laboratory, Hamilton, Montana 

Title and other information from caption card.Transfer; United States. Office of War Information. Overseas Picture Division. Washington Division; 1944.More information about the FSA/OWI Collection is available at http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.fsaowiTemp. note: owibatch1Film copy on SIS roll 1, frame 1090. 01/01/1942

How does the COVID-19 vaccine work?

The COVID-19 vaccine is considered an mRNA vaccine. Normal vaccines would put an inactivated germ into our bodies in order to build immunity. An mRNA vaccine uses mRNA that is created in a laboratory in order to instruct our cells on how to make a protein. The COVID-19 is administered through the upper arm muscle and it enters muscle cells. Inside these cells, the mRNA is assembled in the Endoplasmic Reticulum to form spike proteins. The mRNA that is injected is coded to constantly recreate the spike protein and it is displayed on the surface of the cell and our immune system will respond with antibody production.

What are other Methods of Vaccination?

According to Victoria University, there is more than one way to administer a vaccine. While they’re usually administered with a needle, you could also administer one using Jet Injectors. These Jet Injectors date back to the mid 1860s. They penetrated the skin and administered the vaccine without a needle. The method included a spring-loaded injector where a spring is released to deliver the vaccine. Another method of administering the vaccine is a liquid jet injector that uses very small volumes of liquid that is forced through very tiny microscopic holes in your skin, also not requiring a needle. This method was used during clinical trials against HIV and it is also utilized in some influenza vaccinations. A third method of vaccination is a band-aid-like patch that contains 400 tiny needles. It is said that if the vaccine were administered through antigen-presenting cells in the skin than into muscle cells the chances of the DNA (A DNA based vaccine) entering the nucleus would increase. The researchers created a delivery system by attaching DNA sequences encoding SARS-CoV-2 spike protein on the surface of nano-particles. The tiny needles were then coated with the nano-particles. After this, the patch would then be applied onto the skin, painlessly penetrating it.

Jet injector gun.jpg

 

Is A Vaccine Update On Its Way?

On December 11, 2020, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was approved for its first public use. Since that day, there have been multiple variants of the virus, varying in their mutations from the original strain. One of these strains, in particular, is the Omicron variant. This variant is a new strain of COVID-19 and was first identified on November 24, 2021, in Botswana. With the emergence of this new unknown variant, in addition to all of the past variants, has the time come for an updated vaccine that is tailored specifically to the variants? This question is explored in the Bloomberg article Third Pfizer-BioNTech Dose Is Ket To Fight Omicron’s Spread

Solo-mrna-vaccine-8

After researching the Omicron variant in relation to two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, there was seen to be a 25% reduction in antibodies capable of fighting the virus. However, after a third dose of the vaccine, increased antibody levels close to that of those made for the original COVID-19 strain. With this information in mind, Pfizer stated that an Omicron-specific vaccine may be required. This new vaccine is projected to be ready for the public by March of 2022. The company also stated that their vaccine would change from a two-dose to a three-dose vaccine with the third shot being for Omicron. The third shot would be administered about three months after the first two doses have been given.

Fab fcfragment colors

While the public is waiting for the third dose from Pfizer, Pfizer says that people should use their current vaccine for a third dose, as it would give further protection against the virus. Then, once the Omicron vaccine comes out in early 2022, people should get a dose of that vaccine as well. This new strategy of getting the vaccine is due to new research from multiple labs on the effectiveness of the vaccine on the Omicron variant. An original observation saw a 25 times drop in antibodies, but two other labs found that there is actually a 40 times reduction with this variant. Globally, South Africa found a 41 times drop in antibodies, and a 37 times drop from a German lab. With this research, Pfizer is beginning to look into an Omicron vaccine but must find that it heavily increases protection against the new variant, and if not it will keep the current vaccine in circulation. There is also speculation about a yearly booster for the vaccine, but there must be research conducted on that as well.

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!

 

Changing Course: How Scientists Can Update Vaccines With Emerging Variants

SARS-CoV-2 , the virus which causes COVID-19, is changing rapidly, which in turn warrants changes to the vaccines created to slow its spread. This virus is mutating fast, with a new mutation establishing about every 11 days. These mutations may not be different enough to cause an immediate difference, but each and every person who catches SARS-CoV-2 opens more possibilities for mutations.

Spike omicron mutations top

Omicron Mutation Spike Protein

The most recent large variant to be identified was B.1.1.529 Omicron originating in South Africa. The Omicron variant has more than half the amount of mutations as the Delta variant, raising concern among health officials, who fear that the virus may differ just enough from the original for vaccines to be less effective. This fear stems from the idea that the vaccine-created antibodies will no longer be able to recognize the mutated virus’ spike proteins, resulting in an ineffective vaccine.

The current mRNA SARS-CoV-2 vaccines work in a fascinating way. Scientists utilize harmless lab-grown mRNA that contain coded instructions on how to create the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, and place that technology into a vaccine.

Then, once the mRNA vaccine is injected into the patient, the patient’s cells will create the identical spike proteins, prompting an immune response. As we have learned in AP Bio, the adaptive immune system would eventually churn out antibodies tailored to the spike protein, so any future SARS-CoV-2 virus that enters the body will be neutralized and destroyed, even before it has the chance to infect someone.

Solo-Viral Vector-vaccine-27

SARS-CoV-2 Vaccine Vial

Because of this technology, scientists are readily able to create an updated version of the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine within a matter of days, for distribution in around three months. How do they “update” the vaccine? First, the Omicron spike protein is sequenced into their nitrogen bases (A, T, G, and C’s). Once that is complete, scientists use this sequence to create a DNA template. They then mix in enzymes which build an mRNA copy of the DNA template through a process known as transcription.

This process unfolds in a matter of days… so why does it take three months? Creating the physical mRNA for the vaccine takes only three days, but then the vaccine makers need to produce enough mRNA for doses, which would be used the next six weeks in pre-clinical testing on human cells. Once pre-clinical testing is complete and proves the vaccine works as expected, then the manufacturing of the vaccine can begin. The vaccine wouldn’t be released just yet — the next five weeks would be clinical trials and testing, and after that, the updated vaccine can begin rolling out to the public.

Even though SARS-CoV-2 is evolving faster than vaccines can keep up with, past technology was no where near as quick as today’s. In my eyes, being able to produce an updated vaccine in a matter of months is nonetheless a scientific feat. Comment what you feel was a gigantic scientific leap during this pandemic below!

Why to Get the Vaccine and Booster Shot!

The COVID-19 pandemic started almost 2 years ago on December 12, 2019.  Since then, it took roughly 1 year to release a vaccine in the US. So far there are almost ~780,000 deaths in the US with 195M US citizens fully vaccinated or 59.1% of the US population. Now booster shots are available to ages 18 and older in some parts of the country, you might wonder if you should take them. Is there an incentive to?

Firstly, the ultimate goal of the COVID-19 Vaccine is to stimulate the B-memory cells so when someone comes in contact with the same pathogen, there is faster antibody production for infections. The antibodies bind to the COVID-19 virus in an attempt to inactivate them, and the virus will then be engulfed by the macrophages. In a recent study, a team of physicians and public health experts measured the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine over time. They sampled health workers at San Diego Health use in their study. When the subjects got vaccines in March, their early effectiveness for preventing the contraction of COVID-19 was around 90 percent; however, by July, this percentage had fallen to approximately 65 percent. This is an expected response for most viruses. The immunity wanes over time since the memory B cells’ protection against the virus begins to decrease with time because there are just fewer memory B cells specific to the pathogen present in your body. Thus, booster shots are given to remind the body’s immune system about the COVID-19 virus and produce more memory B cells. In a time where delta was the most prevalent virus, the study also found that unvaccinated people were 7 times more likely more to test positive for COVID-19 compared to unvaccinated people, and adults who contract COVID-19 are 32 times likely to require medical attention compared to vaccinated adults who contracted COVID-19. Again, we have to keep in mind, this is not a simple random sample of the whole US population, therefore we cannot fully use these results to reflect what will happen in our community.

Now that we went over the reasons to get the booster, we have discussed what the booster shot is. The booster shot in essence is the same formulation as the current COVID-19 vaccine that you received if you are vaccinated. The only little variation is in the Moderna’s shot: it is half the dose of the initial vaccine. The shot injects mRNA in a Lipid nanoparticle that can bypass our cell membrane because of its small size and nonpolar properties.

Vaccines-09-00065-g001

Lipid Nanoparticle containing mRNA

The mRNA is used by the cell’s ER to synthesize spike proteins. Since it’s the same formula as the previous COVID-19 vaccines, this means that the booster doesn’t guarantee immunity against the delta and omicron variants. However, it does retrigger your memory B Cells. You should get the booster shot around 6 months after full vaccination since there is a big decreased effectiveness with the passage of time.

Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 Spike Protein (49584124196)

Covid’s Spike Protein

With new variants around the corner, Chira Alleles, a co-author in the study stated “Similar findings [in this study] are being reported in other settings in the U.S. and internationally, and it is likely that booster doses will be necessary.” Since there is no huge downside to getting the shot, and if you do not have any underlying health conditions that might put you in more danger than getting COVID-19, I strongly think you should get the booster shot as soon as it is available to you!

What are your thoughts on getting the vaccine/booster shots? Do you think there will be a point where we can achieve herd immunity, or will that be impossible with the rapid mutations?

The COVID-19 Treatment Pill: Destroying or Amplifying The Virus?

After seeing millions of people die from COVID-19, a new discovery has been found that could be the first long term treatment option to give patients suffering from COVID-19 a chance to fight it off, but how sure can we be that the treatment pill will work?

Pill 1

New data about an antiviral pill made by Merck with its partner Ridgeback Pharmaceuticals show that the treatment pill is not as stellar as first believed. The drug has drawbacks that could outweigh its potential to fight the coronavirus and keep people out of the hospital.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is now deciding whether to grant emergency use authorization for the drug called molnupiravir, after the agency’s advisory panel narrowly voted to recommend it on November 30. The drug was authorized to be of use in the United Kingdom on November 4, and if the FDA follows suit, it could wind up being just a temporary treatment. Some advisers have already urged the agency to be ready to withdraw the authorization as soon as something better comes along.

Finding an early treatment for COVID-19 hasn’t been easy due to the constant trial and error that scientists keep facing, so when the development of molnupiravir came out a lot of experts hailed it as they thought it could be a potential game changer for the pandemic. It would be utilized as a pill that could be given to people early in the infection, keep health care systems from being overwhelmed, and spare people at high risk from the most severe complications. 

In a clinical trial, the drug showed early signs of preventing hospitalization and death from COVID-19 in people who are at high risk. In fact, the results were so promising — a 48 percent reduction in the relative risk of hospitalization or death — that the trial was stopped so that the drug might potentially reach the public earlier.

But on November 26, Merck announced in a news release that when all the available data from the trial was in, the reduction in relative risk fell to 30 percent against hospitalization and death compared with a placebo. The shift stemmed from an unexplained decrease in severe disease among people in the placebo group in the last part of the trial.

Overall, among the 709 people in the molnupiravir group, there were 48 hospitalizations and one death compared with 68 hospitalizations and nine deaths among the 699 people who got a placebo, dropping the effectiveness from the initial 48 percent to 30 percent.

Taking that lower-than-expected efficacy into account, the FDA’s antimicrobial drugs advisory committee came to a split 13–10 decision about whether the antiviral drug should be granted emergency use authorization, with experts on each side of the vote often agreeing with points made by the opposing side. The debate and vote reflected a storm of uncertainty about the drug’s efficacy and who should use it — the list of people who would not be eligible is far longer than those most experts would give the drug to. The panel also looked into whether the drug could lead to even more dangerous versions of the coronavirus, whether it can cause growth delays in children or mutations in human DNA, and other unanswered questions.

The antiviral pill works by making mutations in viral RNA so that viruses are rendered noninfectious and eventually stop replicating. Such mutations happen throughout the virus’s genetic instruction book, or genome.

SARS-CoV-2 without background

Some of those mutations could land in the spike protein, which helps the coronavirus break into cells, or other proteins and make the virus more transmissible or more evasive to vaccines. As learned in AP Biology, the spike proteins enable the host cell to be taken over by the virus and multiply and infect the surrounding cells. The vaccine that is being administered to people all around the world contains the antibodies that you would get if you were to be infected with the COVID-19 virus, so that if you were to get the virus, your body would go into its secondary immune response. This is when the memory cells facilitate a faster, stronger and longer response to the same COVID-19 antigen. Getting the vaccine would protect your body from having a life threatening reaction to the virus. If there is a mutation that lands on the spike protein, then the vaccine will be of no use to people since that is a completely different makeup of the virus. That’s especially a fear if people don’t finish the full five-day course of the drug needed to render the virus inoperable, leading potentially to highly mutated new forms of the virus that could infect others. 

Merck representatives said that possibility is unlikely, because after five days of taking even a half dose of the drug, infectious viruses were no longer detectable among study participants tested. In one study, the company found seven patients who had changes in the coronavirus’s spike protein after taking molnupiravir, but there was no evidence that the viruses spread to other people or affected the patient’s health.

Molnupiravir might also create mutations in human DNA, researchers say. The drug is a nucleoside analog — an artificial RNA building block that can mimic the bases cytosine and uracil. Some enzymes in human cells might convert those RNA subunits to a DNA building block, which may lead to mutations in human DNA, especially in rapidly reproducing cells, such as blood cells. How likely that is is an open question.

Still, there are no good remedies for people with mild to moderate COVID-19. As of November 30, more than 82,000 people in the United States are being diagnosed with COVID-19 each day and more than 800 die. Those numbers are expected to increase as case counts surge in some parts of the country. The new omicron variant might add fuel to that fire if it proves more contagious than the currently dominant delta variant.

So even with all of molnupiravir’s drawbacks, federal regulators might decide a 30 percent reduction in hospitalizations and deaths is worth giving the drug temporary authorization.

The drug might be helpful for “the right patient population, the right virus at the right time,” said Lindsey Baden, an infectious diseases doctor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston who chaired the FDA’s advisory committee. “To me that at least suggests there are populations where there may be benefit.”

But more studies need to be done to address concerns about the drug, he said. “It’s the absence of data that makes many of us uncomfortable.”

President Joe Biden said December 2 during remarks laying out a plan to combat the omicron variant that the government has secured a supply of the drugs and, if authorized, will distribute them similarly to vaccines.

 

Robert Malone: The Man Behind the Ideas for the COVID Vaccine

When you think of the COVID-19 vaccine, the first things that might come to mind are the companies that facilitate it (such as Pfizer & Moderna), if it is safe or not, or even that it is a new type of mRNA vaccine that is unfamiliar to many. However, people tend to overlook and not give any thought towards who made this all possible, and that person is Robert Malone.

Robert Malone, born in 1959, started his medical career at University of California Davis, and later got his MD from Northwestern University. After Malone’s traditional education at both an undergraduate and graduate level, he conducted research at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.

Salk Institute (19)Salk Institute for Biological Studies

During his time at the Salk Institute, Robert Malone performed a “landmark experiment.” In this experiment, Malone mixed strands of mRNA with droplets of fat (lipids). Human cells reacted with this mRNA lipid mix and began producing proteins from it. Robert Malone had some foresight and realized that this discovery has some potential in the medicinal world. He decided to jot down some notes, stating that if cells could create proteins from mRNA delivered to them that it might be possible to “treat RNA as a drug (written January 11, 1988).”

These revelations from Robert Malone had a huge contribution towards the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.

COVID-19 Vaccine vial and syringe - US Census

After seeing all of this information on how Robert Malone made scientific contributions towards the COVID-19 vaccine, it is important to show how it works. Since we know (as seen in Malone’s experiments) that mRNA mixed with lipids that enter a human cell can lead to the production of proteins, scientists just had to tweak the mRNA until it could create pieces of “spike protein.” These pieces of spike proteins would have to match the shape of the spike proteins found on the surface of the COVID-19 virus. This required an impressive feat of biomedical engineering, but it was done.

Robert Malone’s work did not just contribute to the first strand of COVID-19 discovered, but his work applied towards different variants as well.

Corona virus Covid-19 BW

The idea of spike proteins and how spike proteins can be counteracted through an mRNA vaccine applies to all different variants of COVID-19. As seen through activities and lessons learned in our Bio class, different variants of COVID-19 just have pieces of the protein structure changed, which leads to a changed shape of their spike proteins. This leads to existing vaccines being less effective as the original vaccine was meant for a specific spike protein shape, not the shapes of the new variants. This means that mRNA vaccines are still very much effective towards different variants of COVID-19, but they would have to be modified mRNA vaccines.

Despite all of this, Robert Malone’s research’s applications might not stop at the COVID-19 vaccine. The COVID-19 vaccine was able to show us the power of mRNA vaccines, so it is not unreasonable to be expecting more mRNA vaccines in the future.

Have We Discovered The Itchy Stitch?

A Brand New Poison Ivy Vaccine is in the Works; here is What We Know So Far.

Vaccine: The word spoken and heard by most Americans at least ten times daily this past year, yet not usually preceded by “Poison Ivy.” Working at Duke University, biochemist Sven- Eric Jordt heads a team of researchers investigating pain and itch mechanisms, studying the unpleasant sensations of Toxicodendron radicans, better known as poison ivy. Jordt reveals that contact dermatitis (the red rash received from poison ivy) is usually treated by local doctors and rarely shown attention or mass funding. Author of ‘A Vaccine Against Poison Ivy Misery Is In The Works,’ Claudia Wells states, “given the toll in suffering and dollars, you would think serious attention would be paid to this worsening public health issue, you’d be wrong.” When pharmaceutical companies recognized more money was to be made on drugs for chronic skin conditions like eczema, they felt no need to research effective treatments on a temporary rash.  

Toxicodendron radicans (poison ivy) 2 (49046043216)

Having never personally contracted poison ivy, I cannot describe the exact feelings of pain or irritation, but to quote a good friend, “it would be less painful for my skin to be set on fire.” Now I must state that this friend did have an extreme reaction to poison ivy, they pitched their tent in a field of the poisonous plant, yet severe reactions are more common than most might assume. Every year 10 – 50 million Americans contract poison ivy and suffer for an average of 2-3 weeks. Research obtained in a six-year study at Duke University found that an increase of carbon dioxide, i.e., climate change, causes the poison ivy plant to produce a more potent allergenic form of Urushiol, the resin responsible for the rash. With increased concerns regarding climate change, it appears odd that Jordt is one of few who take this rash seriously.

 Currently, the main treatment methods of antihistamines and cortisone cream do the rash very little justice. This is because our body’s reaction to Urushiol has no relationship to histamines, rendering antihistamines useless. In explaining this information to my dad, he agreed that all of the efforts recommended to him when he got poison ivy, a little less than two years ago, proved ineffective. To solve this, Sven Jordt and his colleagues began to analyze receptors that matched with proteins that showed inflammation from Urushiol.

In biology, receptors are proteins that receive signals by bonding with molecules known as ligands to send a specific message onward. A cell’s response depends on the types of receptors present, and each cell has its own number and type of receptor that allows them to act differently to various stimuli. Regarding poison ivy, Jordt and his team discovered that interleukin 33, an immune chemical in the body, is the main culprit behind the symptom of itchy skin. Jordt and his team of researchers are currently testing antibodies against IL-33, such as ST2, in primary sensory neurons. If ST2 could effectively block IL-33’s receptors, the necessity to scratch would virtually disappear. “This is all very new information,” Dermatologist Brain Kim, co-director of the Center for the Study of Itch & Sensory Disorders at Washington University in St. Louis, states. In the past, scientists believed that both the rash and itch from poison ivy were triggered by the immune system’s T cells. Further studies, however, have shown that the inflamed rash and itch sensation come from two different places entirely; It is believed “T cells do cause the inflamed rash of poison ivy but that these other pathways provoke the itch.” (Brian Kim)

 While human research has been challenging to complete due to a lack of study funding, a compound called PDC-APB, a small synthetic molecule derived from active urushiol components, is being developed into a vaccine to prevent painful contact dermatitis.

 As stated earlier, I have thankfully never had poison ivy myself, and I would like to keep it that way. As someone who goes on Sunday hikes through the woods with my family, contracting poison ivy is a constant fear of mine and leaves me wearing pants while walking in the July heat. I think a vaccine would be a fantastic option for someone who spends much of their time in places of possible poison ivy. The only question would be, is this the solution to our itchy problem?

 

WP20Symbols vaccine

Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett…the brains behind it all

As the month of February is regarded as “Black History Month”, it allows us to reflect on and acknowledge those who put their lives on the line to better our safety and who don’t always get recognition. In regards to COVID-19, the deadly virus that struck the world last January, many have spent countless hours researching new therapeutics and vaccines that counter the symptoms of this deadly virus. We tend to gloss over the founders of research and key discoveries pertaining to COVID-19, and instead use these findings as signs of hope for ourselves for the future. As we sit cocooned in our homes and limit our exposure to the virus, first responders and researchers are working day and night to preserve our safety of this great nation. Meet Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, a 34 year old researcher and scientific lead for the Coronavirus Vaccines & Immunopathogenesis Team at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Vaccine Research Center (VRC). Dr. Corbett is a highly prestigious African American women who was one of the leading scientists at the forefront of the COVID-19 vaccine development. She along with her colleagues paved the way into the development of the well-renowned Moderna vaccine.

Kizzmekia Corbett graduated from Maryland University and received a B.S. in Biological Sciences. She was a Meyerhoff Scholar, which is an aggressive program that mentors minorities and women in science. She was then enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she obtained her Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology in 2014. Dr. Corbett then used her expertise to propel novel vaccine development for pandemic preparedness. When president Trump paid a visit to the NIH last March, the leads of the vaccine research center explained their life-saving mission. The focal point behind that mission was no other than Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett. Two weeks after the president’s visit, Corbett’s team began their first stage of clinical trials. Corbett expressed that “they took a lot of the knowledge they have gained in the last six years and applied it to a vaccine platform in collaboration with Moderna…..The vaccine rolled out 10 months later”.

Dr. Corbett explains the vaccines effectiveness at the molecular level, as “the vaccine teaches the body how to fend off a virus, because it teaches the body how to look for the virus by basically just showing the body the spike protein of the virus….the body then says ‘Oh, we’ve seen this protein before. Let’s go fight against it”. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 6.5 million Americans have received the first dosage of the COVID-19 vaccine thanks to Dr. Corbett, and that number is expected to rise daily. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, credited Dr. Corbett by stating “The vaccine you are going to be taking was developed by an African American woman and that is just a fact”.

As we continue to reflect on inspirational African American men and woman around the world risking their lives to ensure our safety, let us take time to dig deeper into where these research discoveries come from. Let us not shroud the remarkable findings that scientists all around the world work endlessness to uncover. “In a time where vaccine skepticism is high among African Americans, Corbett hopes Black people will put faith in the vaccine and faith in the scientists working behind the scenes to bring it to the American people” states CBS news. If you are one of the fortunate people that have received this vaccine, maybe take some time to reflect on the countless hours of research that scientists such as Dr. Corbett experienced, because with out them the world would be a much different place.

The Incredible Work of Veterinary Microbiologist Jessie Price aka “Duck Doctor”

Dr. Jessie Price is the veterinary microbiologist responsible for developing a vaccine against Pasteurella anatipestifer, a respiratory disease which killed roughly 10% to 30% of ducks annually around the 1940s. A Black woman from a poor family, she overcame many obstacles before achieving success as an acclaimed scientist. Born in the year 1930, Dr. Price was raised by a single mother in Pennsylvania. Growing up, she was one of the three Black children in the entire school. Nonetheless, she achieved excellent grades and dedicated herself to academic excellence with the encouragement of her mother and teachers. After a gap year studying in New York, Dr. Price attended Cornell University. Despite initially wanting to become a physician, financial constraints did not enable her to follow that path, so instead she decided to study veterinary microbiology. She decided to continue her education at graduate school, and in order to pay off her tuition, Dr. Price worked as a lab technician at the Poultry Disease Research Farm of the New York State Veterinary College at Cornell University. She earned her Masters in bacteriology, pathology,and parasitology, and she earned her PhD based on her research and thesis titled, “Studies on the Pasteurella anatipestifer Infection in White Pekin Ducklings.”

Along with her two assistants, Dr. Jessie Price created the vaccine for Pasteurella anatipestifer, saving the meat industry millions of dollars as well as saving the lives of innocent ducklings! In addition, through numerous autopsies and trials using vaccinations, Dr. Price identified Pasteurella multocida, Escherichia coli, and Duck hepatitis as the main culprits responsible for killing the several flocks of ducklings she was studying.

The vaccine for Pasteurella anatipestifer connects to topics learned in AP Biology because a vaccine contains the weakened or inactive fragments of an antigen which, when injected into an organism, activates the immune system, prompting it to create antibodies which aid with immunity.

Dr. Jessie Price had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. She loved bettering herself and continued studying and researching most of her life. Very sadly, Dr. Price passed away on November 12, 2015, due to Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Jessie Price’s story inspires us to work hard for our dreams and overstep limitations. She dedicated herself to uncovering solutions, reminding us the value of enjoying the process just as much as arriving at the destination.

CRAZY NEW COVID-19 Mutation Makes Virus Weaker Against Antibodies

As revealed in a fascinating article that details a study conducted by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a mutated form of the virus has been discovered to be much more susceptible to antibodies produced by antibody drugs. This means that it is more easily disabled by antibodies produced by drugs such as the new vaccine. However, this may not all be good news as this new strain, called D614G, is also much more transmissible. D614G originated in Europe and has quickly become the most prevalent form of the virus. According to professor of epidemiology at UNC Ralph Baric, “The virus outcompetes and outgrows the ancestral strain by about 10-fold and replicates extremely efficiently in primary nasal epithelial cells, which are a potentially important site for person-to-person transmission.” These nasal epithelial cells act as a physical barrier against any pathogens attempting to enter the body and play a significant part in the control of the innate and acquired immune response. As we learned in biology, one method of innate immune response that our bodies have is mucous that traps pathogens. The nasal epithelial cells contain cilia that act to push the mucous and the pathogen contained inside out of the body. This means that if this new virus reproduces exceptionally well within the nasal epithelial cells, then it is extremely transmissible through any expulsion of mucous by either sneezing or coughing. It is also far more capable of bypassing the barrier of the mucous and entering the body. These epithelial cells also help the innate immune system by producing various cytokines. If a virus manages to make it past the barrier defenses, the epithelial cells will secrete cytokines. These cytokines will attract a type of cell called a neutrophil that digests pathogens. This means that these nasal epithelial cells are vital to the innate immune response and having a virus strain reproduce so effectively inside of them is extremely worrying.

The researchers believe that D614G is so effective at reproducing because it increases the virus’ ability to enter cells. The D614G mutation opens a flap on the tip of one of the spikes on the side of the virus which allows it to infect cells more effectively. However, this mutation also creates a weakness in the virus. When the flap is open, it becomes much easier for antibodies to bind to the spike proteins, preventing the virus from attacking additional cells.

Two researchers from the University of Wisconsin contributed to this study by experimenting with hamsters. To test the airborne aspect of this mutation, the hamsters were placed into different cages and groups so they could not touch and inoculated with either the original strain or D614G. By day two, in the group exposed to the mutation, six out of the eight hamsters were infected with D614G. In the group of hamsters exposed to the original virus, no additional hamsters were infected by day 2. This shows that this D614G is extremely effective at being transmitted airborne. However, the mutation had the same symptoms and effects as the original virus meaning it is not more severe. The researchers have also noted that these results may not be the same in human studies. I think that this study is equal parts of good and bad news. I am glad that the most prevalent form of the virus is much easier to deal with, but it is quite terrifying that it could mutate to be so much more contagious. How do you feel about this new development? Let me know in the comments. 

LION: The King Of The COVID Vaccines

As the SARS-CoV-2 virus (also known as COVID-19) continues to rage across the world killing millions, more time, effort, and money is being put into researching the best vaccines to help bring the world back to a state of normalcy.  One such vaccine is being developed at the University of Washington using replicating RNA is called LION (Lipid InOrganic Nanoparticle). In its animal trials in July, the vaccine already found some success inducing “coronavirus-neutralizing antibodies” in mice young and old which has given researchers a lot of hope for the future of the vaccine.

 

One might wonder, why do we need a vaccine at all? Vaccines are used to expose your body to small doses of a virus or in this case by mRNA, which teaches your body to produce the antibodies needed to fight the virus and makes memory cells. The next time you are exposed to the virus, your body will be able to produce the necessary antibodies to a much larger degree, much quicker, for longer so you will be protected from becoming sick.

One of the lead researchers on LION, Professor Deborah Fuller of the University of Washington School of Medicine qualified the goals of a successful COVID-19 vaccine saying it, “will ideally induce protective immunity after only a single immunization, avoid immune responses that could exacerbate virus-induced pathology, be amenable to rapid and cost-effective scale-up and manufacturing, and be capable of inducing immunity in all populations including the elderly who typically respond poorly to vaccines.” This is quite a lot to accomplish but LION lends itself very well to these goals, conquering most of the problems a typical DNA vaccine would have. DNA vaccines work by coding for the antigens which are then exposed to the immune system to create memory cells so the body can treat the virus later. The downsides of a DNA vaccine is sometimes those antigens fail to create an immune response or can even cause the cell to become cancerous when the DNA joins the host cells DNA, disrupting it. There is far less risk with RNA vaccines which occupy the cytoplasm and only interact with ribosomes.

Shown above us a basic drawing of what SARS-CoV-2 virus looks like.

LION is a replicating RNA vaccine, but how does replicating RNA work? RNA codes for spike proteins and ribosomes in the body make the necessary proteins. Replicating RNA allows for more spike proteins and ribosomes to be coded at a greater rate, which produces a greater number of proteins continuously while triggering “a virus-sensing stress response that encourages other immune activation.” For the vaccine the RNA replicates proteins that tell the body to reject the SARS-CoV-2 and attack them “with antibodies and T cells”  which stop the protein spikes on the virus from interfering with the cell. The development of B cells, which remember how to make the antibodies to fight the virus when infected again, as well as T cells is especially critical for the vaccine as they can develop immunity to the SARS-CoV-2 antigens. What makes the LION vaccine special is the nanoparticle it is named after which “enhances the vaccine’s ability to provoke the desired immune reaction, and also its stability.” This makes it more valuable than other vaccines of the same kind as it can achieve effective results with a longer shelf life. It can also be mixed simply using a two vial method as the mRNA component is made separately from the main vaccine formulation. For all these reasons, the scientists are optimistic as the vaccine goes into the next stages of testing that this vaccine could help provide a long term solution to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As COVID-19 vaccines start becoming available to essential workers in the coming weeks and my father prepares to take one, it can be quite unnerving to think about all the potential negative side effects of the vaccine. These vaccines have been developed without the typical ten years of testing, so knowing more about the research behind the vaccines serves as a comfort me and many others. Our future is in these vaccines and research so knowing which we should invest our time and money in is always a good idea.

We have vaccines- is the pandemic over?

Does a vaccine mean the end of this pandemic?

For this portfolio project, I will be focusing on the vaccine development process and how the developing vaccines each prepare the immune system to fight COVID-19. The goal will be to explore the stages of development, testing, and distribution to the public and how these new vaccines function. Since there has been recent progress with a few vaccine candidates, namely the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, this blog post will be about the implications of vaccine distribution in coming months.

Firstly, a new vaccine does not mean that it will be safe for society to return to normal just yet. While we’re all definitely excited about the news of successful vaccine trials, the effects of vaccination are not immediate, and the goal of herd immunity will not be reached for a little while. Also, the vaccines have not been tested yet on children and pregnant women, and since women around childbearing age are highly represented in the population of health care workers, it is important that the vaccine work for pregnant women. With the trials so far, we do know that there have been no unexpected negative side effects to vaccination, just the typical mild ones such as injection-site soreness and fatigue.

So why is getting a vaccine so important? It’s true that none of the vaccines are 100% effective, but they have been proven to decrease the severity of symptoms. (Both vaccines have reported about 95% efficacy rates in preventing COVID-19.) There are many good reasons to get a vaccine. Not only will it protect you, but it will be a safer path than widespread infection to build herd immunity. Since the trials did not measure rates of infection, it remains unclear whether the vaccines prevent infection and transmission, though results from another vaccine’s trials suggest that it might somewhat protect against infection. Either way, the rate of subjects who became severely ill was lower for those vaccinated in these two prominent vaccines’ trials. The high rates of hospitalization are due to development of severe symptoms, so reducing symptoms would also help to slow the pandemic’s adverse effects.

So, we’ve seen that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are effective in reducing symptoms, but that brings us to another question. How do these vaccines work? Both of these vaccines are mRNA vaccines. This means that they deliver synthetic messenger RNA that is taken in by immune cells that then produce the spike protein, just as would happen if the cells came into contact with the actual virus. However, since it is just the proteins, there is no risk of getting infected with COVID-19 from the vaccine itself. The immune system will then recognize the protein as a foreign substance and develop an immune response and produce memory cells that will respond swiftly in the case of seeing that protein again. As we learned, the adaptive immune defense depends on the recognition of the epitope of a virus, in this case the spike protein. After first infection, the memory B and Tc cells that are produced via clonal expansion remain in the lymph nodes until the same virus attacks again. However, this mRNA vaccine removes the need for a first infection in developing adaptive immunity because the spike proteins are produced without the rest of the virus needing to be introduced.

Now, let’s imagine it’s a few months from now, and the distribution of vaccines has begun. Can we skip the precautions we have in place now? Do we still need social distancing and mask-wearing? Well, until most people are able to be vaccinated, it will be important to maintain safety protocols that reduce the spread. Even once somebody is vaccinated, they will need to follow guidelines, because it takes several weeks for the immune defense to build up, and both vaccines require a booster dose about a month after the first one. Also, we’ve already addressed the uncertainty about transmission after vaccination, so it’s best to err on the side of caution. 

So, even though these vaccines may not be perfect, they will help control the pandemic. The main question that remains is how efficiently and fairly vaccines can be distributed to best reduce deaths and bring about an end to the pandemic.

Vaccines: The Start of the End?

As you all know, unless you have been living under a rock for the past year, COVID-19 is something that has most likely impacted everyone on the planet in some way, and in some ways worse than others. At this point in time, I think we can all agree that we just want this madness to end, which is looking like it will come from a vaccine. The vaccine trial process began in March of 2020, where phase 1 was conducted, which was giving the vaccine to healthy volunteers to test the safety and how the vaccine reacts in the human body. This first version of the vaccine was a two dose vaccine, which was designed to get the immune system to create antibodies to fight against what is called the “spike” of the virus, which is how the virus attaches itself and enters human cells. In this specific testing, the researchers used a total of 45 healthy adults ranging from 18 to 55 years of age, each of which receiving two injections of the vaccine, ranging in doses of 25, 100, and 25o micrograms. From this testing, participants received no serious side effects from the vaccine, however, more than half of the participants reported feeling fatigued, chills, and pain at the injection site. This is similar in concept to the taste bud lab we did during class recently, as the miraculin tablets altered our taste buds to have change the taste of certain food items, similar to how the vaccine test altered how the participants felt after taking the test vaccine.

 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the goal is for vaccines to be distributed by the end of 2020 in the United States. However, when a vaccine is approved and authorized for distribution, there may not be enough resources for all adults to receive the vaccine when it first comes out. If this is the case, where a vaccine is approved by the end of 2020, and there are not enough resources for all adults at the time, over time, resources will increase leading to all adults being able to have received the vaccine at some point in 2021. As for children, a vaccine may not be available to them as soon as it is available for adults, as more studies are needed to complete a safe vaccine for young children.

 

What is Nanotechnology, and How is it Transforming Vaccine Development for SARS-CoV-2?

1,000+ Free Covid-19 & Coronavirus Illustrations - PixabayCOVID-19 Spike Protein

In an era of mask-wearing and social distancing, the big question on everyone’s mind is when will things go back to normal? Scientists all over the world have been working quickly and intensely to develop a solution–one that is safe. 

Nanotechnology is the process of manipulating atoms and molecules on a microscopic scale. According to a UC San Diego ScienceDaily Article, scientists have been using this technique to design vaccine candidates for COVID-19. Nicole Steinmetz, a nanoengineering professor at UC San Diego, has been one such scientist. Instead of relying on older vaccine models, such as live-attenuated or inactivated strains of the virus itself, these “next-generation vaccines” are more stable, easier to manufacture, and easier to administer. 

Since June 1 of 2020, there have been more than one-hundred vaccines in play, with more than a few triumphing through clinical trials. Although many may be years away from deployment, the act of their development will prepare our nations’ leaders for future pandemics. 

There are three forms of these novel vaccines in the mix: peptide-based, nucleic-acid based, and subunit vaccines. All of these are alternatives to classic vaccines, which are slower to produce and sometimes pose the threat of inducing allergic responses.

scientist, microbiologist, virus, molecular biology, laboratory, coronavirus testing, COVID-19Vaccine Development

Peptide-Based Vaccines

Peptides are short chains made up of amino acid monomers. Simple and easily manufactured, peptide-based vaccines are typically made from VPLs, or virus-like particles, which come from bacteriophages or plant viruses. They are composed of peptide antigens, and mimic the patterns of pathogens, making those patterns visible to the immune system. However, they do not produce a strong enough immune response on their own, and thus must be accompanied by adjuvants.

Nucleic-acid Based Vaccines

In the midst of a fast-spreading pandemic, the world needs a vaccine that can be both developed and deployed rapidly. DNA and mRNA vaccines have this potential. DNA vaccines contain small, circular pieces of bacterial plasmids that are engineered to target the nucleus and produce parts of the virus’s proteins. They have a lot of stability, however, they also pose the risk of messing up a person’s pre-existing DNA, leading to mutations. In contrast, mRNA-based vaccines release mRNA into the cytoplasm, which the host cell then translates into a full-length protein of the virus. Because it is non-integrating, it does not have the same mutation risks as DNA-based vaccines.  

Subunit Vaccines 

Subunit vaccines have minimal structural parts of the pathogenic virus, meaning either the virus’s proteins or VLPs. These vaccines do not have genetic material, and instead, mimic the topical features of the virus to induce an immune response. 

The Power of Masks

Delivery Development

One of the most important aspects of a vaccine is accessibility and deployment. In the past, when dealing with live or inactivated vaccines, the lack of healthcare workers to administer the vaccines emerged as a significant concern. Yet, through nanotechnology, researchers have developed devices and platforms to ease these previous issues. They have created single-dose, slow-release implants and patches that can be self-administered, removing pressure from health care workers. Open reporting and the mass culmination of data has allowed for this rapid development of vaccine technologies. Because of these revolutionary advancements, some researchers optimistically predict that COVID-19 has the potential to become merely another seasonal flu-like disease over time.

What Lies Ahead

In these bleak times, it is promising to look at such amazing scientific developments. While a good portion of the general public feels skepticism towards the speed at which these COVID-19 vaccines are being produced, and thus claim they will not take it, I believe that the work of these scientists will not go to waste. As a nation, and as a global community, we will get past it, and come out stronger than ever on the other side. 

Now, ask yourself, would you take a COVID-19 vaccine? 

COVID-19 Vaccine Poses a Serious Threat to Sharks

Recent studies suggest that shark populations may be in grave danger. By enhancing immune responses, squalene—a polyunsaturated hydrocarbon found in the liver of sharks—has been proven to make vaccines, such as malaria and flu vaccines, more effective. Thus, squalene can be found in some of the COVID-19 vaccine candidates, posing a potential threat to sharks.

If the final COVID-19 vaccine contains squalene, about 500,000 sharks could be at risk. Already, an estimated 100 million sharks are killed annually. While shark fin soup—a cultural Asian dish—poses the greatest threat to the animals, an estimated 2.7 million sharks are already being harvested for squalene which, apart from being used in vaccines, is a popular moisturizing ingredient in cosmetics. Squalene works as a great moisturizer because it is a lipid, one of the four main classes of organic compounds found in living things as learned about in AP Biology. Specifically, squalene is a polyunsaturated hydrocarbon which means that the structure contains rings composed of bonded carbons and hydrogens. Similar to lipids that are composed of fatty acid tails, the molecule is hydrophobic, making it a good moisturizer. When squalene comes into contact with the skin, it repels water which traps moisture inside it’s layer. This keeps moisture from leaving the skin.

There are other alternatives. Squalene can be found in non-animal resources such as olive oil, wheat germ, sugar cane, bacteria, and yeast; however, extracting the lipid from sharks is more efficient for producers, offering a greater yield at less of a cost. Nonetheless, sharks play a vital role in our oceans as a top predator, and relying on them for a vaccine is not only unsustainable but would also be very costly to our environment and world.

In addition, the question of morality comes into play—do we, as humans, have the right to place ourselves above the lives of complex creatures such as sharks? Personally, I think it is incredibly unethical to even consider harvesting hundreds of thousands of sharks for a vaccine, especially when there are other methods of obtaining squalene.

It still remains unclear whether half-a-million sharks will actually be killed for the potential vaccine, but the very idea is frightening for shark-lovers like myself. We must protect our sharks, our oceans, and our world!

 

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