Scientists have discovered regions on the coronavirus which do not change, or ‘coldspots’, and that antibodies specific for these coldspots may help fight future coronaviruses, according to a new study. The coronavirus keeps evolving, and in so doing it evades our immune defenses. But does the entire coronavirus evolve, or do some portions remain unchanged?
According to the study, sieving through over 10 million coronavirus sequences, two PhD students at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB), Switzerland and affiliated with the Università della Svizzera italiana, discovered that some portions of the virus spike, or the molecule on the virus that is key to infect human cells, were remarkably conserved.
“We call these ‘coldspots’, most of the virus is rapidly changing, but we discovered 15 regions that do not,” said Virginia Crivelli, one of the researchers. By analysing samples from COVID-19 convalescent individuals, the researchers found that some had antibodies specific for the coldspots, the study said. “These antibodies are very rare, but thanks to a new method, we were able to find them,” said Filippo Bianchini, the other researcher.
The antibodies blocked virus infection in laboratory experiments, even to the latest variants of concern, and protected from disease in preclinical models, the study said. Will the new antibodies be effective against the next coronavirus(es)? “It is likely that new coronaviruses that infect humans will emerge. Our findings indicate that it may be already possible to develop countermeasures that are broadly effective against present and also future coronaviruses,” said Davide Robbiani, senior author on the study and IRB director. The study is published in the journal Science Immunology.