Two PhD students at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB), which is based in Bellinzona in the canton of Ticino, have discovered that some regions of the continuously mutating coronavirus always remain the same. In the process of analyzing more than 10 million coronavirus sequences, they were able to find 15 of these unchanging portions of the virus spikes. The spikes protrude from the main body of the virus and are crucial to the process of infecting human cells.
These unchanging parts are known as “coldspots”. In addition, when analyzing samples from convalescent COVID-19 patients, the researchers found that some of them had specific antibodies against such coldspots. “These antibodies are very rare”, explains Filippo Bianchini in a press release issued by Università della Svizzera italiana (USI: University of Italian Switzerland), to which the IRB is affiliated. “But thanks to a new method, we were able to find them”, he adds.
According to Davide Robbiani, IRB director and senior author of this study, it is “likely” that new coronaviruses with the potential to infect humans will emerge over the course of time. “Our findings indicate that it may be already possible to develop countermeasures that are broadly effective against present and also future coronaviruses”, he concludes.
The study was published on January 27 in the journal “Science Immunology”, having been produced by the IRB in conjunction with researchers from Stanford University, the Czech Academy of Sciences, the Clinica Luganese Moncucco hospital and international partners from the EU-financed Antibody Therapy Against Coronavirus project. mm