Development of new system for combatting COVID-19 that can be used for other viruses

April 06, 2020

GALVESTON, Texas - A multidisciplinary team at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston working to combat the COVID-19 virus has a system that will unlock researchers' ability to more quickly develop and evaluate developing vaccines, diagnose infected patients and explore whether or how the virus has evolved.

The scientists, led by Pei-Yong Shi, developed the system by engineering a reverse genetic system for SARS coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2, that is causing the current COVID-19 pandemic. The study is currently available in .

A Reverse genetic system is one of the most useful tools for studying and combatting viruses. The system allows researchers to make the virus in the lab and manipulate it in a petri dish. Using this system, the UTMB team has engineered a version of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that is labeled with neon green. When the labeled virus infects a cell, the infected cell turns green.

"The labeled virus could be used to rapidly determine whether a patient has already been infected by the new coronavirus or evaluate how well developing vaccines are inducing antibodies that block infection of the virus. The level of antibodies induced by a vaccine is the most important parameter in predicting how well a vaccine works," said Shi, I.H. Kempner professor of Human Genetics at UTMB. "The neon green labeled virus system allows us to test patients' samples in 12 hours in a high-throughput manner that tests many samples at once. In contrast, the conventional method can only test a few specimens at a time with a long turnaround time of a week."

"This technology can significantly reduce how long it takes to evaluate developing vaccines and ultimately bring them to the market," said Xuping Xie, the UTMB Research Scientist who designed and developed the genetic system. "UTMB will be very happy to make this technology widely available to both academia and industry researchers working to quickly develop countermeasures."

"The genetic system allows us to study the evolution of the new coronavirus. This will help us to understand how the virus jumped from its original host bat species to humans. It remains to be determined if an intermediate host is required for the host switch from the original bats to humans for the new coronavirus," said Vineet Menachery, Assistant Professor at UTMB, who co-senior-authored the study. "The system has provided a critical tool for the research community."

"This is another example of team science at UTMB," said Dr. Ben Raimer, President ad Interim of UTMB. "The collective effort from teams with complementary expertise worked together to deliver this exciting study. We will expand the team science to areas of clinical care and patient diagnosis by deploying the technology for serological testing."

Shi said, "This will not be the last emerging virus that plagues humanity. In the past two decades, we've seen other coronaviruses like SARS and MERS, as well as other viruses like Zika, Ebola and others. It's critically important to have a system that can be used for any new future or re-emerging viruses so that we can very quickly respond to the pathogens and protect peoples' health."
-end-
Other authors include UTMB's Antonio Muruato, Kumari Lokugamage, Krishna Narayanan, Xianwen Zhang, Jing Zou, Jianying Liu, Craig Schindewolf, Nathen Bopp, Patricia Aguilar, Kenneth Plante, Scott Weaver, Shinji Makino and James LeDuc.

To implement the technology for diagnosis and vaccine evaluation, the UTMB team has received grants from National Institutes of Health and philanthropic support from the Robert J. Kleberg, Jr. and Helen C. Kleberg Foundation; John S. Dunn Foundation; Amon G. Carter Foundation; Gillson Longenbaugh Foundation and the Summerfield G. Roberts Foundation.

University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston

Related Engineering Articles from Brightsurf:

Re-engineering antibodies for COVID-19
Catholic University of America researcher uses 'in silico' analysis to fast-track passive immunity

Next frontier in bacterial engineering
A new technique overcomes a serious hurdle in the field of bacterial design and engineering.

COVID-19 and the role of tissue engineering
Tissue engineering has a unique set of tools and technologies for developing preventive strategies, diagnostics, and treatments that can play an important role during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Engineering the meniscus
Damage to the meniscus is common, but there remains an unmet need for improved restorative therapies that can overcome poor healing in the avascular regions.

Artificially engineering the intestine
Short bowel syndrome is a debilitating condition with few treatment options, and these treatments have limited efficacy.

Reverse engineering the fireworks of life
An interdisciplinary team of Princeton researchers has successfully reverse engineered the components and sequence of events that lead to microtubule branching.

New method for engineering metabolic pathways
Two approaches provide a faster way to create enzymes and analyze their reactions, leading to the design of more complex molecules.

Engineering for high-speed devices
A research team from the University of Delaware has developed cutting-edge technology for photonics devices that could enable faster communications between phones and computers.

Breakthrough in blood vessel engineering
Growing functional blood vessel networks is no easy task. Previously, other groups have made networks that span millimeters in size.

Next-gen batteries possible with new engineering approach
Dramatically longer-lasting, faster-charging and safer lithium metal batteries may be possible, according to Penn State research, recently published in Nature Energy.

Read More: Engineering News and Engineering Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.