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A critical breakthrough has been made toward developing a vaccine for the 2019 new coronavirus…

Researchers from The University of Texas at Austin and the National Institutes of Health have made a breakthrough toward developing a vaccine for the 2019 new coronavirus by creating the first 3D atomic scale map of the part of the virus that attaches to and infects human cells.

Mapping this part, called the spike protein, is an essential step in order for researchers around the world to develop vaccines and antiviral drugs to combat the virus.

Jason McLellan, associate professor at UT Austin who led the research, and his colleagues have spent many years studying other coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV.

As soon as we knew this was a coronavirus, we felt we had to jump at it, because we could be one of the first ones to get this structure. We knew exactly what mutations to put into this because we’ve already shown these mutations work for a bunch of other coronaviruses,” says McLellan.

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After two weeks after receiving the genome sequence of the virus from Chinese researchers, the team had designed and produced samples of their stabilised spike protein. It took about 12 more days to reconstruct the 3D atomic scale map.

The molecule represents only the extracellular portion of the spike protein, but it is enough to elicit an immune response in people, and thus serve as a vaccine.

The team plans to use their molecule to pursue another line of attack against the virus that causes COVID-19, using the molecule as a “probe” to isolate naturally produced antibodies from patients who have been infected with the novel coronavirus and successfully recovered.

In large enough quantities, these antibodies could help treat a coronavirus infection soon after exposure.

For example, the antibodies could protect soldiers or health care workers sent into an area with high infection rates on too short notice for the immunity from a vaccine to take effect.

Source: University of Texas at Austin via

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