Anyone who thinks that BPRC researchers only work with monkeys is wrong. (Inter)national partnerships sometimes make it possible for someone to work at another research institute for a longer period of time. This also applied to one of our PhD students. The past two years she worked at the Medical Microbiology department of Amsterdam UMC for her doctoral research. The laboratory techniques that she co-developed and optimized there, have now also been used to develop a Covid-19 therapy. This resulted in co-authorship in the journal Science.
We don’t make the same mistake twice. This also applies to our body. When we come into contact with the same pathogen for the second time, our immune system reacts more efficiently. This makes us less sick than the first time, or even not sick at all. A vaccine works like such a first infection, but without the complications that a real infection sometimes entails. The immune system recognizes a vaccine as a potential danger and prepares to defuse it. For example, white blood cells learn to make specific antibodies. No vaccine is yet available for the new coronavirus. Until then, we only make antibodies through contact with the real virus. But in about one in ten patients, those antibodies are too late to prevent disease.
Sometimes we have to help the immune system a bit
A small-scale study in China previously showed that some critically ill covid-19 patients benefit from blood plasma treatment. Not just any plasma, but plasma from people who have already conquered the virus and whose immune system did produce the right antibodies in time. The Chinese researchers collected nearly half a liter of plasma from them and then gave it directly to the sick patients. The effect was that they recovered faster. But the Chinese study was a small study involving only a few patients. More research is needed to ensure that this experimental therapy works. Hospitals in the Netherlands also participate in this. But one of the problems they face is finding suitable donors.
Replicate the right antibodies in the lab
A solution to this problem could be to replicate the antibodies in the laboratory. But then you need to know exactly which ones. Plasma contains many different antibodies and not all of them are equally effective. At the Medical Microbiology department of Amsterdam UMC they examined blood of three cured covid-19 patients. In this blood, they found antibodies that bind very strongly to the virus and that can also defuse the virus in cell culture.
The next step, as mentioned, is to replicate these antibodies in the laboratory. If successful, they are tested in laboratory animals. The ultimate goal of the Amsterdam scientists is to make a combination of antibodies that prevents patients from becoming infected with covid-19.
Want to read more about this research? You can use this link.