This is my high school HOSA club newsletter article from January 2022. COVID-19 – you’ll need a bigger spike protein! Sharks, the formidable underwater predators produce antibodies that can be used to fight the dreaded COVID-19 (SARS-COV-2) coronavirus.
A new study published in Nature Communications has suggested that unique antibodies commonly found in sharks can be used to combat Covid-19 and its various variants. This study shows immense promise and could provide insurance for future outbreaks originating from animal-borne viruses, as well as provide immunity without the need for vaccination, benefiting those who are immunocompromised.
The shark antibody itself is known in the scientific community as VNARS or Variable Antigen Receptors. These antibodies are incredibly small and are actually a tenth of the size of a human antibody. This small size allows it to tightly compact together with other antibodies and effectively form a blockade that blocks the coronavirus from attaching to human cells.
At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, researchers studied the effectiveness of these shark antibodies by nursing sharks on their campus. These laboratory trials conducted by UW-Madison proved to be a massive success and found that the antibodies would block the coronavirus by inhibiting spike proteins from gripping onto the ACE2 receptor in a human cell.
From the early successes seen in the laboratory trials, UW-Madison then collaborated with a biotechnology company known as Elasmogen, to further test VNARs against the coronavirus (more specifically SARS-Cov-2). From this research, scientists were able to conclude 3 specific VNARs that stopped SARS-Cov-2 from infecting the human cells. The aforementioned VNAR that inhibited the functionality of the spike protein, 3B4, was one of these proteins.
Despite all the successes seen in the University’s research, there are still concerns regarding the antibody. The biggest one is that because the shark antibodies are so small, they may be filtered out of the kidneys at a fast rate, thus preventing their time to build immunity within a person. As a result, researchers at UW-Madison predict that human trials using the shark antibody could begin in 2 years at the earliest.
Besides treatment of the coronavirus, researchers believe that these shark antibodies would be effective in immunotherapeutic settings, treating cancers, and developing new drugs. As a result, this new discovery shows immense promise for the coming years and will definitely revolutionize the treatments we see today.
“How Shark Antibodies Could Aid the Fight against Coronavirus and Prepare for Future Outbreaks.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 23 Dec. 2021, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/shark-antibodies-may-change-how-we-fight-coronavirus-and-prepare-for-future-outbreaks-180979294/.
Shark Antibody-like Proteins Neutralize COVID-19 Virus, Help Prepare for Future Coronaviruses.” ScienceDaily.com, ScienceDaily, 17 Dec. 2021, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/12/211217102915.htm.