COVID Booster: Cupping, solitude and gender equity

Delivering a COVID vaccine via…cupping?

A team of US researchers has developed a way to transfer DNA molecules directly into skin cells, using a pressure technique that’s similar to the traditional practice of cupping. The researchers have used this technique to vaccinate rodents against SARS-CoV-2. In the rodents, the DNA vaccine provoked a strong immune response.

The researchers, who have published their new method in Science Advances, are currently running a Phase II clinical trial on their COVID vaccine.

“This suction-based technique is implemented by applying a moderate negative pressure to the skin after nucleic acid injection in a totally non-invasive manner,” says senior author Professor Hao Lin, from Rutgers University in the US. This mimics cupping, which applies suction to the skin with heated cups.

“This method enables an easy-to-use, cost-effective and highly scalable platform for both laboratory and clinical applications for nucleic-acid-based therapeutics and vaccines.”

Aiming for gender equity in vaccine trials

Historically, a majority of medical research has been done on men, which means that it’s not always clear what the exact health effects of a treatment will be on women.

Fortunately, this is unlikely to be the case for COVID vaccine research – a study in Frontiers in Global Women’s Health looked at over 300 published papers, and found that women were being equally represented on the whole.

“We found women have been recruited equally for randomised control trials for COVID-19 vaccines, and in observational research the majority of participants were women,” says lead author Dr Amy Vassallo, a researcher at the George Institute for Global Health.

“This differs from the usual narrative that women are under-represented in research projects.

“To think just a couple of decades ago, women were actively excluded from research. This is a big improvement.”

There is, of course, space to do better. The study points out that gender typically wasn’t reported or presented in publications.

Lockdown solitude wasn’t all gloom

Many people found advantages to the solitude of the UK’s first lockdown, between mid-March and early June 2020, according to new research in Frontiers in Psychology.

“Our paper shows that aspects of solitude, a positive way of describing being alone, are recognised across all ages as providing benefits for our well-being,” says Dr Netta Weinstein, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Reading, UK.

The researchers surveyed 2035 people aged over 13 in the UK. While people in all age groups reported disrupted well-being as a result of the pandemic, a significant proportion of people also felt competent and more autonomous during the lockdown.

“We know that many people reconnected with hobbies and interests, or increasingly appreciating nature on walks and bike rides during that time, and those elements of what we describe as ‘self-determined motivation’, where we choose to spend time alone for ourselves, are seemingly a critical aspect of positive well-being,” says Weinstein.

Interestingly, teenagers were among the most likely to have reported positive aspects of solitude.

“The conventional wisdom is that adolescents on the whole found that the pandemic was a negative experience, but we see in our study how components of solitude can be positive,” says Weinstein.

One dose of Johnson & Johnson is 74% effective against variants

The single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 73.6% effective at preventing COVID-19, according to a US study.

The study examined health records of 8889 people who’d had the jab, and 88,898 unvaccinated people, from February to July 2021 – at this point, the Alpha and Delta variants of COVID-19 were dominant in the US.

Only 0.7% of vaccinated people tested positive to COVID, compared to 2.5% of unvaccinated people.

A paper describing the results is published in JAMA Network Open.

How do we make vaccines that can resist future variants?

A team of Australian researchers has outlined a strategy for creating the next generation of COVID-19 vaccines against emerging variants of the virus.

The researchers, who have published a paper in Immunity, have identified antibodies that target parts of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that are unlikely to mutate, and can block the virus from infecting human cells.

“Current COVID-19 vaccines, which target the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, are highly effective at reducing disease severity and reducing transmission,” says co-author Professor Chris Goodnow, executive director of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research. “Future variant strains, which will emerge due to the virus’s mass spread, may escape the current strategy.”

Instead of focussing on the spike protein, the researchers looked at other proteins and parts of coronaviruses. They found that one section of the virus in particular, called the Class 4 epitope region, could be a useful target for future therapies. Antibodies that targeted this area in SARS-CoV-1 (which caused the 2002–03 SARS outbreak) were also effective against COVID.

“What this leads us to propose is that targeting SARS-CoV-2 may not be the most effective vaccination strategy moving forward, and that immunising against a related virus may produce an antibody response that has greater resistance against emerging strains,” says lead author Dr Deborah Burnett.

Please login to favourite this article.