Seattle is still one of the areas of the U.S. hardest-hit by the pandemic. The city takes nearly two weeks in quarantine strict. The shops and public transportation are closed but a group of 30 scientists leaves every morning from his house to reach to the laboratory of the University of Washington (UW). They are working on a supervacuna against the coronavirus protein-based synthetic. A sophisticated method that starts with a work of software and could trigger an immune response 10 times greater than the traditional. “Only the people who need the specimens going to the laboratory. The rest of the computers we have at home with the computer. We are all working against the clock”, says by phone Susana Vazquez Torres, a young researcher of mexico (26 years) who works in the group devoted to the experiments with enzymes.
From an algorithm, scientists are developing artificial proteins. Rather, nanoparticles, formed by dozens of subunits in the form of proteins. The nanoparticles would be “like a box very small,” explains Vázquez. The researchers adhere to the surface of the box, different antigens, that is to say, small parts of the virus that trigger an immune response in the body. “The difference, ” adds the scientist – with other methods is that it is possible to paste in an orderly and repetitive many more antigens. This type of vaccines have already been used against respiratory viruses in animals and the immune response has been up to 10 times stronger than the traditional.”
Next week will begin the tests with mice. The next test will be with monkeys. If the immune response in the animal is as powerful as that recorded in the tests for other respiratory viruses, the computer of the Institute for Protein Design the UW hopes to have it ready for “the coming months”.
The scientific career to finding effective treatments against the disease caused by the coronavirus has started at full speed in China, USA and Europe. None expected to be ready before next year. Among the most commonly used drugs by now there are two that are gaining special attention: a generic already approved for malaria, and an experimental treatment designed to combat ebola. “Many laboratories are preparing for drugs, but the innovation with the synthetic proteins may allow us to find a universal vaccine, that acts against the whole family of the Coronavirus,” adds Vázquez, which has since November working for the Institute for Protein Design University and that after the summer will start at the same center, his doctorate in biochemistry.
Born in Querétaro, daughter and sister of engineers, the young scientist studied the bachelor of Biomedical Research in the UNAM. Before coming to USA, he spent a year at the University of Groningen, funded by grants from the Dutch Government and pursuing a masters in medical Sciences and pharmaceuticals. He feels more comfortable in Seattle. “Here I am closer to my family and there is a lot latino community. In Holland they did not know or what was a taco”. Of his country, considers that “the Government has been slow to take appropriate measures”.
The virus behind this pandemic is not new (it existed until now in bats), and belongs to a known family. The MERS or SARS, are strains of the same virus. “The ease with which we can add antigens of different strains it would make it easier a universal vaccine against all the family of the coronavirus and that protects us from other epidemics in the future.”
Also new is the use of synthetic proteins. Replacement of the organic molecules in medicines, allows to reduce the steps of the research and, of step, to remove solvent and chemical elements very polluting, but necessary for the chemical reactions in the body. Yes it is again the work with algorithms and computational models to improve the adhesion of the antigens and improve the nanoparticles.
Another advantage is that by being synthetic, these particles are very resistant to temperature. “Against the majority of the vaccines that need strong cooling appliances for their conservation, this is much more resistant to heat. Something that makes the drug suitable for palees in development, both in Africa and in Latin America”, closes Vazquez.