Researchers have created new molecules that can be sprayed into the nose to prevent the SARS-CoV-2 virus from entering the lungs and causing infection. The COVID-19 virus enters the body through the lungs when people breathe, leading to illness. Engineers at Johns Hopkins University in the US have now created thin thread-like strands of molecules called supramolecular filaments that can block the virus in its tracks. “The idea is that the filaments will act like a sponge to absorb the COVID-19 virus and other viruses before they have a chance to attach to the cells in our airways,” said Honggang Cui, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering. .
“Even if the drug can block the virus for an hour or two, it can be helpful when people have to be in a public setting,” said Cui, who led the research published in the journal Matter. The key to this approach is the way the filaments carry a receptor called angiotensin-converting enzyme-2, or ACE2, which is also found in cells lining the nose, on the surface of the lungs, and in the small intestine.
They have many biological roles, such as regulating blood pressure and inflammation. The new coronavirus enters our bodies primarily through interaction with this receptor. The spike protein of the virus clicks on this receptor, similar to a key going into a lock, allowing it to enter the cell and replicate. Once the virus is locked inside a cell, it prevents the cell from carrying out its normal functions, leading to and worsening the infection.
Researchers know that adding extra ACE2 to the airways can block virus entry, essentially preventing the virus from binding with ACE2 in the lungs. However, because ACE2 has biological functions, simply delivering more ACE2 into the body can have unpredictable complications.
The team’s newly developed filament, called fACE2, serves as a decoy for the virus to bind, with each filament offering several receptors to bind the COVID-19 spike protein and silencing ACE2’s biological functions to avoid potential side effects.
“Our plan is to administer this as a nasal or oral spray, allowing it to be suspended in the lungs or deposited on the surface of the airways and lungs. When a person inhales the COVID-19 virus, the virus will be tricked into binding to the decoy receptor rather than for ACE2 receptors on cells,” Cui said.
ALSO READ: Omicron XBB.1.5: WHO has THIS suggestion for travelers on long flights as new variant of COVID spreads
Because the filaments attract the characteristic spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, it should work equally well on any current or future variants, the researchers say. They tested his design in mouse models and found that their filament was not only present in the lungs of rodents up to 24 hours later, but also did not cause inflammation or obvious damage to lung structures.
This, the researchers said, suggests that fACE2 can be retained in the lungs for some time and is safe. They noted that the molecules may also have the potential to treat people with active COVID-19 infections by preventing newly acquired viruses from replicating.
“We think fACE2 could also be used on other respiratory viruses that use the ACE2 receptor to infiltrate cells. The design of the filament is versatile and can be modified to carry a variety of therapeutic proteins that target different receptors,” adds Hongpeng Jia, an assistant professor at the Johns to the faculty. Hopkins School of Medicine.
READ ALSO: Can Covid-19 cause insomnia? Here’s what we know
Latest health news