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Belgian scientists discover a way to prevent SARS-CoV-2 virus

Published in the journal Nature Communications, this is the world’s first study to uncover the virus’ entry mechanism SARS-CoV-2 enter cells, and open up great prospects for the production of a spray-on antiviral drug that can kill the virus in the event of infection or high-risk exposure.

In fact, so far there has been no really effective treatment against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which always threatens to recur in one form or another at some point. Well aware that developing an antiviral to prevent infection requires a better understanding of the exact mechanisms at the molecular level, the team from UCLouvain’s Institute of Molecular Science and Technology – led by Dr. Lead scientist David Alsteens – has been conducting research for two years now on the entry mechanism of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Scientists used atomic force microscopy to study the interaction between sialic acid (AS), the sugar residues found on the cell surface, and the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2.

According to scientists, all cells are covered with sugar residues, which play a role in promoting cell recognition. This allows viruses to more easily identify their target, and uses this as an attachment point to help them enter host cells and initiate an infection.

UCLouvain researchers focused on a variant of these sugars that interacts with the spike protein more strongly than other sugars, and they found the “key” that allows the virus to enter cell.

According to scientists, because viruses are made up of a series of mutated proteins, the suckers allow them to attach to cells and eventually get inside. The more “keys” the virus finds, the better it can interact with the cell and the larger the “door” will open. Therefore, it is important to find out how the virus manages to multiply the entry keys.

To do this, the scientists blocked the attachment points of the spike protein and thus eliminated any interaction with the cell surface. To do this, one of the conditions is that the interaction between the virus and the inhibitor must be stronger than the interaction between the virus and the cell.

Professor David Alsteens explains: “We have shown that multivalent structures (or glycoclusters) with more 9-O-acetylated sialic acid on their surfaces can also prevent binding rather than infection. SARS-CoV-2”. If viruses do not attach to cells, they lose their ability to enter and die within 1 hour to 5 hours. Thanks to this blockage, the infection is prevented.

Scientists say the discovery has the advantage of working on viruses, independent of mutations, and will demonstrate the same in the future, against other viruses with similar binding factors. UCLouvain scientists will perform tests on mice to apply the way to block the viruses’ binding and see if they work in this organism.

According to the researchers, this result will allow the development of an antiviral agent from these sugars, to be used in spray form, for cases of COVID-19 infection or at high risk of infection due to COVID-19. have been in contact with an infected person.

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