COVID-19 disease does not stop making victims. Today, the world is heading towards 700 thousand deaths in more than 16 million positive cases and there is still no sign of an improvement in contagions. Despite the fact that more is already known about the SARS-CoV-2 virus, we are still trying to understand how this pathogen has become so dangerous and deadly. However, another important step has been taken that could be decisive in attacking the virus and ending the disease.
An enzyme has been identified that could be the system that the virus uses to camouflage itself.
Immune system of human beings acts differently
When a pathogen enters the human body, it triggers local alarms that signal the immune system to take action and destroy the unknown entity. So, such behavior is true, whether it is a virus, bacteria or other types of microorganisms. So this is what also happens with the new coronavirus.
As has been noticed around the world, some immune responses are better and more efficient than others. As a result, there are some people who experience a mild version of the disease and some don't even have symptoms.
However, there are other people who have immune systems reacting more slowly, so the virus will easily replicate inside the lungs and cause all kinds of life-threatening complications. Then there is always the response of the immune system that causes more problems than good results. It can even lead to death. Doctors are still trying to understand why this is happening and how it can be tackled.
To attack the new coronavirus, better drugs are needed
As has already been made known, drugs such as dexamethasone offer a potential treatment for patients who experience a massive inflammatory response. However, better drugs are needed to significantly reduce complications and death.
Researchers at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center have discovered what may be a vital element in the behavior of SARS-CoV-2. The virus has a way of camouflaging itself, once inside the cell, to prevent its detection. It doesn't always happen, but this could explain what makes the new virus so dangerous and why some patients have a harder time getting rid of it.
The researchers published their work in the journal Nature, where they explain the cloaking technique that allows the virus to escape an immediate response.
Scientists have identified an enzyme called nsp16 produced by the virus and which it then uses to modify its RNA capsule. Once the virus binds to cells, it uses its RNA to instruct these cells to mass produce thousands of copies of the virus. The cell is destroyed in the process and new copies can infect other cells. The immune system will block some of them and also destroy infected cells. This ongoing battle takes place at the cellular level, and is a critical process that affects the recovery of patients.
It's a camouflage. Due to the changes, which deceive the cell, the resulting viral messenger RNA is now considered as part of the cell's own code and not as foreign.
Explained Dr. Yogesh Gupta, responsible for the study of the mechanism.
This could be the target of new, but effective drugs
The discovery could be significant for the future development of antiviral drugs. New drugs could target the nsp16 enzyme and prevent it from making any changes. As a result, the immune system would recognize the virus more quickly and start fighting it earlier.
Such drugs could speed up patients' recovery. As with any COVID-19 investigation, the work could benefit from future studies, while clinical trials would be needed to test the effectiveness of any new molecule designed to inhibit the nsp16 enzyme.
A study in mid-May looked at how the coronavirus blocks interferon activity when it infects cells. This process allows the coronavirus to continue to replicate without hindrance through a rapid and local immune response. Almost two months later, a different team of researchers said that their interferon-based nebulizer could provide the treatment the world needs to prevent complications and reduce deaths from COVID-19.
This week it was announced a drug called SNG001 that could reduce by 79% the risk of developing a serious form of the disease COVID-19 - preliminary results released last Monday by the British laboratory that produced it, Synairgen, point out.
This inhaled treatment uses interferon beta, a natural protein that is involved in the body's response to viruses.