Corona virus diagram

Behavioral test for hamsters could lead to better Covid-19 vaccines, therapeutics

A behavioral test for hamsters can be used as a fast and simple indicator of how efficient vaccines or therapeutics are against SARS-CoV-2 infections, researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) have found.

In a study published Jan. 12 in Scientific Reports from Nature, UTMB researchers describe how they developed a behavioral test to determine anosmia—the loss of the sense of smell—for hamsters that were infected with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2).

“This test may contribute to the speedy testing of antivirals and potentially to the development of therapeutics to help aid those suffering from anosmia related to COVID-19,” said Dr. Slobodan Paessler, a virologist who was one of the corresponding authors of the study. Additional authors were Rachel Reyna, Megumi Kishimoto‐Urata, Shinji Urata, Tomoko Makishima, and Junki Maruyama.

The study found a moderately strong correlation between the level of a loss of smell and the thickness of the olfactory epithelium—the tissue in the nasal cavity that is involved in the sense of smell. That same tissue was severely damaged when infected. The study found a correlation between infected hamsters that recovered their sense of smell and the repair of the nasal cavity tissue.

Researchers hid a cookie in the corner of a cage of each hamster infected with SARS-CoV-2. Then they timed how long it took each hamster to find its cookie. Those with thicker olfactory epithelium could smell quicker. Those that couldn’t find the cookies had a severe loss of smell.

“This food-searching behavioral test can act as a simple and effective screening method in a hamster model for various therapeutics for SARS-CoV-2-related anosmia,” the study stated.