COVID Booster: antibody cocktails, animal models and long COVID

Cosmos Magazine


Cosmos is a quarterly science magazine. We aim to inspire curiosity in ‘The Science of Everything’ and make the world of science accessible to everyone.

By Cosmos

Watching SARS-CoV-2 spread in animal models in real time

On the right: green splodges. On the left: red splodges
Texas Biomed researchers have developed reporter viruses to express different colors for different variants of SARS-CoV-2. This enables them to easily see if treatments, vaccines or neutralizing antibodies work against multiple variants at the same time. Credit: Texas Biomed.

Want to see glowing SARS-CoV-2 moving through cells in real time? Well, now you can, thanks to a study published in PNAS.

“Now we can track where the virus goes in animal models for COVID-19,” says virologist Luis Martinez-Sobrido, of Texas Biomed, US.

“Being able to see how the virus progresses, and which organs and cell types it specifically targets, will be a big help for understanding the virus and optimizing anti-viral drugs and vaccines.”

To make the glowing virus, the researchers linked part of the virus’ genetic code to a fluorescent protein. This ‘reporter’ protein glows under a special microscope wherever the virus is present in the cell, revealing how the virus moves inside the body.

A person standing next to a machine
Texas Biomed researchers Kevin Chiem, Ph.D. candidate (left), and Chengjin Ye, Ph.D. (right) prepare to analyze noninfectious samples of SARS-CoV-2 in fluorescent imaging machine in the lab of Texas Biomed Professor Luis Martinez-Sobrido, Ph.D. Credit: Billy Calzada/San Antonio Express-News via ZUMA Press Wire

This technique makes it much easier to quantitatively assess viral load.

“Instead of needing a large team to screen 2,000 compounds to see if they work against the virus, one person could do that with a reporter virus in a few hours,” says molecular biologist Chengjin Ye of Texas Biomed.

The researchers have shared their technique and materials with other labs, hoping to boost research capabilities.

“We feel is it is our responsibility to share these new tools and technologies with other researchers around the world to help bring the pandemic to an end as quickly as possible,” says Martinez-Sobrido.

Pandemic was the deadliest thing to hit Europe since World War II

The COVID-19 pandemic triggered a reduction in life expectancy around the globe. In Western Europe, the life expectancy decrease is the largest since WWII, according to a paper in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

The study also found that the life expectancy decrease in Eastern Europe exceeded the decreases that happened during the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

The researchers, based at the University of Oxford’s Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science, in the UK, calculated life expectancies for 29 countries, most of which were in Europe. The US and Chile were also included.

“While we know that there are several issues linked to the counting of COVID-19 deaths, such as inadequate testing or misclassification, the fact that our results highlight such a large impact that is directly attributable to COVID-19 shows how devastating a shock it has been for many countries,” says Ridhi Kashyap, co-author on the study.

Australian researchers have developed a promising antibody “cocktail” to treat COVID-19

Monoclonal antibodies effectively prevent the SARS-CoV-2 virus from infecting cells in animal models, Australian-led research has found.

Such antibody-based therapies could become an important tool in controlling severe COVID-19 disease.

“Unlike vaccines, which take several weeks to generate antibodies, antibody-based therapies would provide immediate protection against the virus,” says Wai-Hong Tham, co-leader of the project from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research.

Covid wide copy
Antibodies binding the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Antibodies are shown in orange and purple, binding to ‘spike proteins’ on the surface of SARS-CoV-2 virus (shown in teal and yellow). Spike proteins are critical for SARS-CoV-2 to enter human cells, and this can be blocked by specific antibodies – breaking the infection cycle. Credit: Drew Berry, WEHI.TV.

“In the future, we may be able to use these therapies in people who are immunocompromised or unable to mount a robust immune response to a vaccine. If used early on, these treatments could prevent hospitalisations and serious complications from COVID-19.”

The antibodies work by binding to the virus and preventing it from entering host cells, leading to reductions in both viral load and disease severity.

The research team now plans to move forward with clinical trials

The study was published in Cell Reports.

Women and men communicate differently during lockdowns

It may sound cliché, but women spend longer on phone calls and follow government measures more closely than men during a lockdown or a crisis, suggests a study in Scientific Reports.

To learn this, researchers studied the behavioural patterns of 1.2 million Austrians in Vienna during the spring 2020 lockdown.

“The total shutdown of public life was like a population-wide live experiment,” says Tobias Reisch from the Complexity Science Hub Vienna (CSH).

“We were interested in the extent to which people supported the anti-corona measures imposed by the government.

“When we analysed the data by gender, we found surprisingly strong behavioural differences between men and women.”

For example, women spent longer on the phone than men.

“Interestingly, they talked to fewer people than usual – but with these few, they spoke longer,” says Reisch.

“Of course, we don’t know the content or purpose of these calls,” adds Georg Heiler from CHS. “Yet, literature from the social sciences provides evidence – mostly from small surveys, polls, or interviews – that women tend to choose more active strategies to cope with stress, such as talking with others. Our study would confirm that.”

On the other hand, they found that men were more active at shopping centres during the lockdown, and more quickly returned to pre-lockdown mobility patterns than women.

Men women press release en samll
After the first lockdown in Austria was imposed on 16 March 16 2020, calls from women to women were up to 1.5 times longer than before the crisis (+140%), and calls from men to women lasted nearly twice as long (+97%). Conversely, when women called men, they talked 80% longer. The duration of calls between men rose only by 66%. Credit: CSH Vienna

One in three may have long COVID

Long COVID isn’t uncommon, according to a study published in PLOS Medicine.

Researchers analysed electronic health records of 270,000 COVID-19 patients in the UK and found that 37% had persistent long COVID symptoms between 3-6 months following diagnosis.

They also found that people with severe initial illness were at higher risk of long COVID, and that the rate of incidence was slightly higher in females and young adults.

Previous studies had focused on self-reported data or small-scale studies, so authors say that this highlights the need for evidence-backed treatment of long COVID.

Please login to favourite this article.