Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Scientists Have Discovered How Coronavirus Infiltrates Human Cells

The first series of pictures of the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 have come to light wherein the virus can be seen merging with the lung cells to create more viruses.

Qiang Zhou and his team from Westlake University, China found how this virus attaches to a respiratory receptor called angiotensin-converting enzyme 2. Thomas Gallagher of Loyola College has expressed his fascination at the surprising depth in the pictures- which show fusion at the atomic level. This student of coronavirus spoke about how it was quite stunning to get this level of information so quickly.


But Gallagher believes it to be important- for, if a vaccine is to be made for this virus, it is important that researchers have complete knowledge about the what’s and the why’s.

The very basic way through which a virus infects a human body is simply by infiltrating human cells and operating the cell itself. This cell then multiplies and converts adjoining cells. The Science journal published a report on 19th February which showed how this virus had an entryway into human cells. The molecular key involved was something called a spike protein. A week later, Zhou spoke about how the spike protein was effectively used by the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2. This report was then effectively published on 4th March in the same magazine.

Liang Tao, a researcher not involved in the project but also from the Westlake University, gave quite an interesting analogy to the entire procedure. He called the body, a house with the new coronavirus being a robber. In this case, the ACE 2 was simply the doorknob, and when the S-Protein touched the doorknob, it was all over for the human body.

To get this information, Zhou had to use a cryo-electron microscopy, which utilized frozen samples amongst other important tools to find out the change in biological molecules. Interestingly, these researchers found a deeply similar biological structure between the 2019-nCov and the SARS virus that had broken out in 2003. But there were definitely some differences- most importantly in the amino acids and their reaction in both the SARS and the 2019-nCov. Gallagher mentioned that while the differences might look minute to the naked eye, it created a huge difference in how the virus clung on to the human body.

This clinginess is also important in the discovery of how fast and effective would the transmission of disease be when the virus travels from cell to cell. Also, Gallagher mentioned that this wasn’t the only coronavirus- for there were several others that enter the body through other means and cause respiratory problems which we think to be common cold.

Gallagher believes that in order to make a drug effective towards combating 2019-nCov, the medical field has to indulge in newer terrains. For, the drugs available in the market simply prevent viral replication in the host. If more effectiveness is desired, then researchers have to look for drugs that would directly hit the entry point.

The spike protein could be another interesting place to start making a better, improved drug. But Gallagher has a warning attached to it- any drug made has to be safe for humans. And according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it would take close to a year to make an effective vaccine that would eradicate Coronavirus.
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