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Rodent Tests on Virus Vaccine Prove Promising in Pittsburgh

This could very well be the game changer that we were looking for.

As the coronavirus death toll rises, the race for an effective vaccine is an all-hands-on-deck effort.

Here in the United States, we have been told to begin preparing for the worst, as the headlines will turn ever more grim in the coming days.  The peak of this crisis is expected to hit sometime around Easter, which is still nearly two weeks away.

That’s why the race for a cure, a vaccine, or even a widely-successful treatment has been a top priority of researchers around the world.

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At the University of Pittsburgh, they may be onto something.

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In the race to find a vaccine to combat the aggressive spread of the novel coronavirus, scientists with the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine may have found a potential option.

With funding from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases and the National Cancer Institute, university scientists developed a candidate vaccine to fight against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The team’s findings were reported Thursday in eBioMedicine, which is published by The Lancet.

The study is the first “to be published after critique from fellow scientists at outside institutions that describes a candidate vaccine for COVID-19,” according to a news release, which added: “The researchers were able to act quickly because they had already laid the groundwork during earlier coronavirus epidemics.”

“We had previous experience on SARS-CoV in 2003 and MERS-CoV in 2014. These two viruses, which are closely related to SARS-CoV-2, teach us that a particular protein, called a spike protein, is important for inducing immunity against the virus. We knew exactly where to fight this new virus,” said Andrea Gambotto, associate professor of surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and co-senior author of the study, in a statement.

Preliminary testing provided some optimistic results.

Researchers used mice in the study, delivering the vaccine to them through a “fingertip-sized patch” that they claim “produces antibodies specific to SARS-CoV-2 at quantities thought to be sufficient for neutralizing the virus.” The mice began to develop antibodies against the novel virus two weeks after receiving the shot, according to the study.

Though the mice have not been monitored long term, the researchers said mice in vaccine trials for MERS-CoV “produced a sufficient level of antibodies to neutralize the virus for at least a year” and indicated the antibody levels in the mice apart of the new study “seem to be following the same trend.”

Researchers have indicated that it could take months for human trials to begin, but, given the nature of the situation at hand, one can only imagine that no expense will be spared in expedition the process.

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