Statewide NewsUT Austin Researchers Announce Breakthrough in Developing a Vaccine for the Coronavirus

Researchers at UT Austin created a 3D scale map of the portion of the coronavirus that attaches to human cells, leading to a possible breakthrough in developing a vaccine for the infectious virus.
February 25, 2020
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Last week, the University of Texas at Austin announced a possible breakthrough in developing a vaccine for the novel coronavirus.

Working jointly with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), researchers at UT Austin created a 3-Dimensional scale map of the portion of the virus called the spike protein that latches itself to human cells. 

This significant breakthrough published in the academic journal Science last week is a crucial step for the development of vaccines and other medications capable of combating the virus that has infected more than 80,000 people across the world.

From this research, the team is also reportedly working on developing a vaccine for the virus.

Led by Jason McLellan, an associate professor of molecular biosciences at UT Austin, much of the research pertaining to the latest strain of the coronavirus was conducted by Ph.D. student Daniel Wrapp and research associate Nianshuan Wang in conjunction with researchers from the NIH’s Vaccine Research Center.

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Associate Professor of molecular biosciences Jason McLellan (Vivian Abagiu/The University of Texas at Austin)

McLellan has studied various other forms of the coronavirus, allowing his past experiences to pave the way to the most recent discovery.

Previously, McClellan along with other researchers created ways to analyze spike proteins by forming them into a shape more effective for the making of vaccines and for easier analysis.

“We knew exactly what mutations to put into this, because we’ve already shown these mutations work for a bunch of other viruses,” McClellan said according to the UT News

After producing stabilized spike protein samples, the research team was able to construct the 3D molecular structure and submit their findings to the academic journal just 12 days later.

3D molecular structure of the 2019 nCoV spike protein (Credit: Jason McLellan/The University of Texas at Austin)

Through an expedited peer-review process, their findings were published. 

Moving forward, the research team hopes to use antibodies from individuals who contracted the virus but recovered to develop a treatment soon after exposure.

Though the virus has mostly affected the Hubei Province of China where it originated, most recently, South Korea, Iran, and Italy have reported outbreaks of the virus which have elevated fears of a possible global pandemic. 

To date, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report 14 confirmed cases of the virus in the United States. 

Twelve of the confirmed cases are travel-related while the other two were reportedly spread through person-to-person contact. 

Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio remains one of the locations where quarantined patients from China and the Diamond Princess cruise ship are being kept.

Altogether, 426 individuals in the United States have been tested for the virus. 

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Sarah McConnell

Sarah McConnell

Sarah McConnell is a reporter for The Texan. Previously, she worked as a Cyber Security Consultant after serving as a Pathways Intern at the Department of Homeland Security – Citizenship and Immigration Services. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Texas A&M as well as her Master of Public Service and Administration degree from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M. In her free time, Sarah is an avid runner, jazz enthusiast, and lover of all things culinary.

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