Plato is quoted as saying that necessity is the mother of invention. The current world pandemic has forced medical scientists into a desperate search for a vaccine against the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.
In the past vaccines have been one of 3 types:
Dead vaccine – the pathogen is rendered non-infectious but is still able to elicit an immune response thereby conferring immunity.
Attenuated vaccine – the pathogen is changed to make it unable to induce symptomatic disease but is still able in infect the host. The immune system mounts a response conferring immunity against the original pathogen as well as the altered pathogen.
Sub-unit vaccine – part of the pathogen (e.g. an external protein or ‘spike’) often with an adjuvant (a substance that stimulates the immune system) which elicits an immune response thereby conferring immunity.
Today I watched a documentary on the search for a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 that is similar to type 3 but differs in one crucial aspect. Back in January Chinese scientists sequenced the genome of SARS-CoV-2 and scientists in the UK have identified the sequence that encodes the protein spike of the virus. They are now using bacteria to create multiple copies of the genetic code (RNA in this case) for this spike. It is hoped that when injected into muscle tissue the muscle cells will take up this genetic material and begin making copies of the virus spike; in effect creating their own subunit vaccine. The scientists are currently doing trials on macaque monkeys and if successful, human trials will follow. If this methodology works and a vaccine is developed it will fundamentally change vaccine research in the future especially against viruses. This technique may not have ever been considered if it was not for the current pandemic hence the quote from Plato.
As for me I’m coping quite well at the moment. It’s been nice having my husband and daughter for company the last few days due to the bank holiday. I have lined up a couple of craft projects to keep me occupied in the coming weeks.
EDIT: I need to add a correction. The team at Oxford are not solely using the RNA sequence for the spike protein as a vaccine. They are cloning it on to a cold virus which is then injected. The principle is the same with the hosts own cells making the spike protein to elicit the desired immune response to confer immunity to SARS-CoV-2.