University of Nevada, Las Vegas physics professor Michael Pravica may have found the answer to the COVID-19 vaccine through targeted x-rays.
The biggest problem with creating vaccines is you want to damage the virus enough that it is deactivated. It’s not live, so it can’t infect the host. We’re arguing that with select tuned x-rays, using our techniques, you can create much less overall damage but you get much more targeted damage to basically produce the best quality vaccine you possibly could, claims Pravica.
The professor believes that process could be adapted for other viruses including HIV. Pravica has filed for patents on behalf of UNLV for some of the elements that would be used to create the vaccine(s).
The structures of these viruses could be analyzed and targets identified and exposed to the x-rays while allowing the human body to activate its antibodies and develop immunity.
A New Way to Inoculate
Pravica states, “There are viruses right now as we speak, such as COVID-19, such as HIV, that have boggled researchers that they cannot still get a proper vaccine for. This is a fascinating intersection of sciences – physics, biochemistry, molecular biology. That’s where you get the most interesting science and the most ability to solve problems.”
According to Pravica, the process may even have applications inside the body (in vivo). This is one by directing the exact level of x-rays into the patient to destroy enough of the infection so their own immune system can catch up and kill off the rest of the virus in the body.
Medical doctors are excited about this possibility says Pravica. He even stated that each biochemist he as shown this idea to believes it will work.
Pravica says he is going to apply for some remote experiments if the school can get the funding for him to purchase viral samples to test his theory. They will not be COVID-19 samples at first.
If this technique is put into practice, it could be easily adapted to create vaccines for mutated viruses. “We have to stay on top of nature, and this is one very elegant way to stay on top of it.”
Inoculation Challenges for COVID-19
According to the Mayo Clinic, “coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause illnesses such as the common cold, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). COVID-19 is caused by a virus that’s closely related to the one that causes SARS. For this reason, scientists named the new virus SARS-CoV-2.”
Coronaviruses contain an S protein that creates a spike-like structure, which gives it a crown-like appearance, hence the name coronavirus. If the vaccine targets the S protein it can prevent it from attaching to human cells and stop the virus from spreading.
There are challenges to creating a COVID-19 vaccine, however. There have been several SARS vaccines tested on animals. Most of these vaccines improved the survival rate of the animal but did not prevent the infection from developing. Additionally, some of the vaccines caused complications such as lung damage. A vaccine for COVID-19 needs to be safe for humans.
Once a person has been infected with COVID-19, it can reoccur. This is only a mild version of the virus and it only occurs a second time is some people. Therefore, a COVID-19 vaccine will have to provide long-term protection against future infection.
People over the age of 50 are more susceptible to infection but less responsive to vaccines. A COVID-19 vaccine would have to work for the older population.
Authorities for global health and vaccine developers are working together to support the technology used to create vaccines.
Types of Inoculations
Live vaccines use a weakened form of the germ that causes the illness. This type of vaccine prompts the immune system to respond without causing the illness.
These types of vaccines are used to protect people against chickenpox, measles, mumps rubella, and smallpox. The infrastructure is already available to create this type of vaccine.
Inactivated vaccines use a killed version of the infectious germ that causes the illness. This type of vaccine causes an immune response without causing an infection. Inactivated vaccines are used to fight against the flu, rabies, and hepatitis A.
This type of vaccine is not as strong and does not provide the same protection as a live-virus vaccine. They require multiple doses or booster injections over time to provide adequate protection against the virus. Additionally, this type of vaccine requires researchers to handle large amounts of infectious disease.
Genetically engineered RNA or DNA is programmed with instructions to make copies of the S protein. The viral copies prompt the immune system to respond to the virus. Using genetically engineered vaccines do not require the handling of the infectious virus. Nonetheless, there has not been an approved genetically engineered vaccine licensed for human use.
It can take years to create a vaccine, especially if it involves new technologies that have not been tested for human safety or adapted for mass production.
Why Inoculations Take Time to Create
Why does it take so long to develop a vaccine? First, it is tested on animals to see if the vaccine works and is safe.
Then, it is tested on a small group of humans to evaluate the safety of the vaccine on humans. That is phase I. In phase II, doses and exact formulation are determined to prove the effectiveness of the vaccine. Phase III involves a larger group of people to demonstrate the efficacy and safety of the vaccine.
Due to the pandemic, scientists may fast-track some of these phases, however, it is not likely a vaccine for COVID-19 will be available in less than six months after the trials begin. It takes 12 to 18 months or longer to create and test in human clinical trials. To make matters worse, researchers are unsure if an effective vaccine is even possible for COVID-19.
Inoculation Trials Begin In UK
Regardless, CNN Health says there is hope. Scientists in the U.K. began human trials for a potential COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, April 23, 2020. The government warns, however, that it may have to rely on social distancing measures until next year if no vaccine or treatment is discovered before then.
According to England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, the probability of discovering a treatment or vaccine “anytime in the next calendar year is incredibly small.”
The human vaccine trial was developed by scientists at Oxford University’s Jenner Institute. Professor of vaccinology at Oxford University Sarah Gilbert is hopeful that her team will develop an effective vaccine. She is “80% confident,” she told CNN. If the developed vaccine is effective, the plan is to have a million doses ready by September.
The vaccine created by Gilbert’s team is called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, and it was created from a harmless virus found in chimpanzees.
“Vaccines made from the ChAdOx1 virus have been given to more than 320 people to date and have been shown to be safe and well tolerated, although they can cause temporary side effects, such as temperature, headache or sore arm,” according to the University of Oxford.
The U.K. has been on lockdown since March 23. The number of COVID-19 cases has begun to plateau, therefore, the government is preparing the next part of its strategy: Test, track, and trace.
The U.K, government has promised repeatedly that it would test 100,000 people for COVID-19 per day by the end of April. First Secretary of State Moninic Raab told Parliament on Wednesday that the U.K.’s capacity for testing is at “40,000 a day.” He expects that number to increase exponentially in the next week. Raab says the government is making “good progress” and will meet its target.
The U.K. is looking to enlist 300,000 people for a significant long-term study to track the spread of COVID-19 and understand the levels of immunity. Authorities are hoping the study will improve the understanding of how people are infected, how many people have developed antibodies, and possible immunity.
“Participants will form a representative sample of the entire U.K. population by age and geography with initial findings expected in early May,” government officials said on Wednesday.
Study participants will provide self-administered nose and throat swabs and will answer questions during a home visit from a health worker. For the first five weeks, participants will be asked to take more tests every week, then every month for 12 months.
Additionally, adults from 1,000 homes will provide blood samples taken by health workers. This is to determine the portion of the population that has developed COVID-19 antibodies. These participants will also be providing monthly samples for 12 months.
This survey will help to track the current extent of transmission and infection in the UK, while also answering crucial questions about immunity as we continue to build up our understanding of this new virus. Together, these results will help us better understand the spread of the virus to date, predict the future trajectory and inform future action we take, including crucially the development of ground-breaking new tests and treatments, according to U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
By Jeanette Vietti
NBC News Las Vegas: Keys to coronavirus vaccine may come from UNLV
Mayo Clinic: COVID-19 (coronavirus) vaccine: Get the facts
CNN Health: COVID-19 vaccine trial on humans starts as UK warns restrictions could stay in place until next year
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