A research team at UTMB has developed a system to speed up the vaccine development process. The valuable new research tool in the fight against COVID-19 will be made widely available to academic and commercial research entities to support studies on the effectiveness of vaccines or drug therapies. Researchers say it will also shorten the time for patient diagnosis and help scientists study how the virus moves through the system.
"Virus in a Petrie Dish"
Through reverse genetics, the multi-disciplinary team at UTMB created a version of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the lab that has a "reporter" that is labeled with neon green and that can be manipulated in a petrie dish. When a labeled virus infects a cell in the dish, the infected cell turns green. Dr. Pei-Yong Shi, the Principal Investigator on the study, says the system will make it easier to study the effectiveness of vaccines and to create a live attenuated vaccine. Best of all, the system can be used with any drug (already approved or in development) or any vaccine candidate to determine the effectiveness of the therapeutic.
The study is currently available in Cell Host & Microbe.
“The labeled virus could be used to rapidly determine whether a patient has already been infected by the new coronavirus or evaluate how well developing vaccines are inducing antibodies that block infection of the virus. The level of antibodies induced by a vaccine is the most important parameter in predicting how well a vaccine works,” said Shi, who is the I.H. Kempner professor of Human Genetics at UTMB.
“The neon green labeled virus system allows us to test patients’ samples in 12 hours in a high-throughput manner that tests many samples at once. In contrast, the conventional method can only test a few specimens at a time with a long turnaround time of a week.”
“This technology can significantly reduce how long it takes to evaluate developing vaccines and ultimately bring them to the market,” said Xuping Xie, the UTMB Research Scientist who designed and developed the genetic system. “UTMB will be very happy to make this technology widely available to both academia and industry researchers working to quickly develop countermeasures.”
“This is another example of team science at UTMB,” said Dr. Ben Raimer, President ad Interim of UTMB. “The collective effort from teams with complementary expertise worked together to deliver this exciting study. We will expand the team science to areas of clinical care and patient diagnosis by deploying the technology for serological testing.”
Shi said, “This will not be the last emerging virus that plagues humanity. In the past two decades, we’ve seen other coronaviruses like SARS and MERS, as well as other viruses like Zika, Ebola and others. It’s critically important to have a system that can be used for any new future or re-emerging viruses so that we can very quickly respond to the pathogens and protect peoples’ health.”
Other team members and authors include UTMB’s Antonio Muruato, Kumari Lokugamage, Krishna Narayanan, Xianwen Zhang, Jing Zou, Jianying Liu, Craig Schindewolf, Nathen Bopp, Patricia Aguilar, Kenneth Plante, Scott Weaver, Shinji Makino and James LeDuc.
To implement the technology for diagnosis and vaccine evaluation, the UTMB team has received grants from National Institutes of Health and philanthropic support from the Robert J. Kleberg, Jr. and Helen C. Kleberg Foundation; John S. Dunn Foundation; Amon G. Carter Foundation; Gillson Longenbaugh Foundation and the Summerfield G. Roberts Foundation.