COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio State University scientists have developed a unique approach to fighting COVID-19: “tricking” the coronavirus into thinking it’s causing an infection.
The OSU scientists have designed protein fragments, called peptides, that mimic the receptors the coronavirus uses to cause an infection. The idea is to fool the virus into binding to the peptides before it reaches the human body.
OSU scientists published the findings in last month’s issue of the journal Bioconjugate Chemistry.
Scientists are still studying the technology but believe it could be useful in nasal sprays and disinfectants that could help prevent someone from contracting COVID-19, said Amit Sharma, an assistant professor of veterinary biosciences at OSU and co-lead author of the study. While experts say the vaccine is the best way to prevent an infection, the OSU technology could be added to the many tools being used to limit the risk.
“When I speak to my team, the words we use are an ‘all-of-the-above’ approach,” Sharma said. “Certainly, technologies like these constitute an added arsenal to the vaccines and other approaches we already have or are coming along.”
Sharma’s lab had prior experience studying viruses and how they interact with cells. When the pandemic struck, they realized that expertise could be used in the fight against COVID-19.
The virus that causes COVID-19 attaches to cells using its spike protein. More specifically, the spike protein binds to the ACE2 receptor on the surface of cells that are often found in the nasal cavity and lungs, according to the National Institutes of Health.
The OSU team designed peptides that mimic the ACE2 receptor. They “trick” the coronavirus into binding with them before the virus reaches the human body, according to the study.
It’s unclear how long it could take to bring a nasal spray or a disinfectant that uses the technology to market, but Sharma said the OSU team is ready to work with manufacturers.
“We think we can make progress quickly, but that depends how quickly we can find a commercial partner,” he said.
It’s also unclear how long a nasal spray or a disinfectant could provide protection against the virus. More research is needed to provide a definitive answer, Sharma said.
It’s possible the OSU technology could be adapted to fight another virus in the future. Sharma said scientists could use the same approach to design additional peptides or inhibitors.
“It increases our readiness and preparedness the next time something like this comes around,” Sharma said. “We can draw from this knowledge base and quickly adapt at that point, and draw from this particular technology for a new virus or a new disease or pathogen.”