Undergraduate Student Research Helps With Understanding Of Covid-19

Research conducted by an undergraduate student at the University of Dundee has helped develop our understanding of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which is responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic.

Deadline News reported that Conchita Fraguas Bringas carried out a computer-based bioinformatics project exploring how the SARS-CoV-2 virus shares similarities with another SARS-like virus in terms of how an important protein works.

Her research focused on the Spike protein, which plays a vital role in the transmission of Covid-19.

Using the computer programme, Conchita observed the “lock and key” mechanism that is found between the Spike protein in the virus and the ACE2 receptor, which is what allows the Covid-19 virus to enter human cells.

This protein has been a focus of the various vaccine trials happening around the world.

The work carried out by Conchita has led to important findings relating to these Spike-receptor interactions and she’s hoping that her research using computer programmes can be followed up in the laboratory.

Speaking to the news provider, Conchita explained that she travelled to Spain early in the pandemic to be with her family, while also completing her work for her undergraduate degree.

“I felt that if I had the chance to help out in any way, I would try to do so. I was well-versed in bioinformatics as I had completed my thesis using online tools, and was lucky to have access to them back home,” she said.

With the assistance of her advisor of studies Dr David Booth, Conchita carried out her research and submitted her findings to the journal Access Microbiology. Dr Booth said he was happy to support her and pointed out that it’s impressive for an undergraduate student to have achieved publication of their research.

“I thought Conchita’s instincts were on point, as she correctly asserted that in the 2002-2004 SARS outbreak no vaccine was produced even though there is a suite of research exploring the molecular mechanisms of the viral infection,” Dr Booth stated.

In the UK, a team from Imperial College London is set to begin trials of an inhaled vaccine for Covid-19. They will be using two vaccines that have been developed in recent months, one at Imperial and the other developed at Oxford.

The BBC explained that researchers believe delivering a vaccine directly to the lungs could create a better immune response than a conventional injection. 

Around 30 healthy volunteers will be given doses of the vaccine initially, with these administered in the same way as asthma drugs using a nebuliser and a mask or mouthpiece.

Professor Robin Shattock, research lead on the Imperial vaccine, told the news provider that it’s vital for researchers to explore alternative ways of administering vaccines.

There are currently almost 180 vaccines for Covid-19 being explored, but none has yet reached the end goal.

“It may well be that one group has the right vaccine but the wrong delivery method, and only trials such as this will be able to tell us that,” Professor Shattock stated.

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