Sharks could potentially help in the fight against COVID-19, new research suggests.
According to the study by researchers from University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Minnesota and biomedical company Elasmogen, a biomedical company in Scotland, antibody-like proteins derived from sharks' immune systems can prevent SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, its variants, and related coronaviruses from infecting human cells.
The small, unique shark cells, known as VNARs, are around one-tenth the size of human antibodies, which allows them to reach even the tiniest of areas. The researchers found the VNARs can bind to infectious proteins in unique ways that bolster their ability to halt infection. Intriguingly, they were not just effective against SARS-CoV-2 , but also SARS-CoV-1, which caused the first SARS outbreak in 2003.
While the researchers say their findings will not help in the fight against the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, as treatments using shark VNARs simply aren't yet available, they could hold some promise in the face of future coronavirus outbreaks.
"The big issue is there are a number of coronaviruses that are poised for emergence in humans," says Aaron LeBeau, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of pathology who helped lead the study. "What we're doing is preparing an arsenal of shark VNAR therapeutics that could be used down the road for future SARS outbreaks. It's a kind of insurance against the future."
The team published its findings in Nature Communications.
*image courtesy of Andrea Bohl from Pixabay