The COVID-19 pandemic was an unprecedented development that caught the scientific world by surprise. With millions of COVID-19 cases reported across the universe and millions of deaths from the same, there is an urgent need to create a drug to prevent its effects.
Scientists and researchers alike have been extra busy testing for the protein fragment that could prevent the virus from entering the human lung cells. Its development could be crucial in finding the treatment for COVID-19. Here is everything you need to know about experimental peptides and COVID-19.
What is the experiment?
Previous research showed that COVID-19 infects the body by binding its spike proteins to ACE2 receptors on a cell’s surface. Once it has attached itself to the lung cells, the virus fuses into the cells and instructs the host cell to make new viruses. Because it binds tightly to the ACE2 receptors, the Coronavirus is highly infectious. For example, it can continue to replicate inside the host cell, with the damage resulting in the COVID-19 symptoms.
Based on this knowledge, researchers can design a peptide that resembles the ACE2 receptor. These peptides would trick the virus by appearing as the ACE2 receptor, causing the COVID-19 virus to bind with them instead of the human cells. It makes the virus inactive, preventing it from triggering an infection.
The experiment focuses on studying the COVID-19 spike protein and how it binds to the human cell receptor. This virus has many protein spikes that protrude from its viral envelope. It targets the ACE2 receptor found on the surface of lung cells. The virus uses the ACE2 receptor as the entry point to the human body.
Therefore, the idea is to develop a peptide drug that blocks this viral entry. Through molecular dynamics, researchers can identify the region where the receptor-binding domain attaches to the ACE2 receptor. They first examine the images of ACE2 receptors and the SARS-CoV-2 and how the virus attacks the human cell. They then create a molecule that will bind with the coronavirus spike protein. There should be different peptide variants to increase their binding ability and make them stable.
How does a peptide work?
You know how proteins function as building blocks in the body. A peptide is a fragmented piece of protein whose small size allows it to enter human cells. It mimics a protein found on the surface of human cells, such as the ACE2 receptor. Hence, you can use the peptides to trick Coronavirus into binding with a fake ACE2 receptor, preventing it from infecting human cells.
For example, the ACE2 receptors have a spiral-like tail. Hence, researchers can create a peptide that would incite the COVID-19 spike protein to attach to it. This peptide would be the shortest possible route that could bind to the spike proteins using a minimum number of contact points. Once the COVID-19 virus attaches to the peptide, it can’t bind to the human cell or replicate it.
Through custom peptide synthesis technology, you can generate a peptide with the same sequence as the alpha helix of the ACE2 receptor. These peptides mimic the ACE2 receptor, meaning they will bind to the COVID-19 protein spike.
Peptides and COVID-19
Coronavirus uses ACE2 receptors on the target cell’s surface to penetrate the lung and nasal activity. These receptors act as an access point to enter the body and trigger an infection. Therefore, the experimental peptide develops a replica that will bind to the Coronavirus and block it from attacking the lung cells. The peptide must have a significant contact point and minimum essential contacts to inactivate the coronavirus.
In this research, the peptides are larger molecules compared to the ACE2 receptors. This means they can grip the spike virus to prevent its entry into the cells. If the peptides are smaller than the receptors, it would not effectively block the entry area, making it less practical. Most antibodies have a larger surface area for this purpose. It ensures proximity to get the virus while it is still outside the cell.
Anytime the virus comes in contact with the peptide, it is inactivated and cannot cause the symptoms. Since the COVID-19 spike protein has already bound to something else, it cannot attach itself to the ACE2 receptors in the lungs.
What are the implications of these findings?
These findings show a high possibility of using peptides to prevent coronavirus infection. Peptides have the power to treat Coronavirus by preventing its entry into the human cell. By blocking the virus from attacking the human cells, peptides can prevent it from causing dangerous symptoms in a person. The short protein fragment interrupts the infection process of the Coronavirus inside the body, thus slowing down its activity.
The best thing about using peptides is that they are easy to manufacture in large quantities. Peptide drugs require injecting under the skin or intravenously. The inability to take orally means researchers have to change the drug to stay in the bloodstream long enough. So, some vaccines require taking a second jab to ensure effectiveness.
However, researchers can create surface treatments and nasal sprays from these peptides. For example, peptide-based nasal sprays can block the virus from entering the body by inactivating it. The goal will be to neutralize the virus and its ability to trigger an infection.
The Bottom Line
The experimental peptide is a drug candidate that blocks the ability of Coronavirus from entering human cells. As a result, it could provide the foundation for developing the COVID-19 cure. This peptide is a significant finding in opening new pathways to fighting the virus. It reduces the ability of a COVID-19 virus to trigger infections in the body by inactivating it. In particular, T cell immunity is the way to control viral infections such as Coronavirus.
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