Virologist LUMC: “Keep looking for vaccine” | Science


Before he talks about his research, the virology professor first explains how a virus works. “It has a round shape,” he begins. “But you can’t see it with the naked eye. It is only 100 nanometers in size. But this tiny ball now holds the whole world in its grip. ”


A virus is full of proteins, originating from a small genetic code that is wrapped in an envelope. It knows how to penetrate our body through the air or saliva, for example. A virus is actually “dead” biologically, but by entering a body cell it comes alive. “Then it will grow the cell and copy itself,” explains the professor. “Ultimately, hundreds of new virus particles leave the cell, which is then completely in front of pampus. They then spread throughout the body looking for new cells to infect. This process is extremely fast. That is why someone can feel sick so quickly. ”

The professor says that some viruses can thrive in both the human and animal bodies: “If only the virus finds cells that are very similar and in which it can multiply.” That is why the pest of animals spreads to humans and sometimes vice versa.


“You have four coronaviruses that have probably been in humans for centuries,” says Prof. Snijder. “They were probably transferred by cows, dromedaries, felines or bats at one time. Those four now cause a fairly harmless cold. And then there are three viruses that have only appeared in humans this century. Those coronaviruses are dangerous to people because they can cause fatal pneumonia. They are called coronaviruses because the tiny nails sticking through their skin make it look like they are wearing a crown. ”

Those three ‘new ones’ are the first sars virus, which raged in Asia in 2003 and spread through the civet, the Mers virus, a not very contagious corona virus that comes from dromedaries and has been active in the Middle East since 2012 and the corona virus that is now floating around. It is eighty percent the same as the first sars virus. That is why we call it sars coronavirus II. The disease you get from it is called Covid-19.

What kind of resources are the pro and colleagues looking for in the fight against the minuscule spheres?

“You can prevent infection with a vaccine,” he says. “We are looking for that together with others. We are trying to replicate the surface protein of the virus, the nails. If that works, you can inject it into people so that their bodies then produce antibodies that also turn off the real virus particles when they come along. Normally your body does that too, but it has to get used to a new virus before it produces antibodies. As a result, someone first gets sick but then becomes immune. These types of vaccines consist of only one part of the virus so that a healthy person cannot get sick. ”

“We are running behind facts”

Another method is to inoculate someone with the genetic code for the surface protein of the virus, through which his body will make that virus protein and subsequently also protective antibodies in response. Or you build that code into an innocent virus and inoculate people with it, with the same effect.


“But it often takes many years before these types of agents are tested for safety and produced by industry,” warns Prof. Snijder. “As long as there is no vaccine yet, you should be able to use medicines to curb the disease and protect people on the front lines. We specialize in research into the development of such virus inhibitors. But you don’t do that in a few months. You have to test more and more improved variants before you finally get the best product. What goes faster is testing existing drugs to see if they also happen to inhibit coronaviruses, for example chloroquine that was originally used against malaria. Or brake desivir against Ebola. But such a drug is never perfect because it has not been selected to inhibit coronaviruses. ”

According to the scholar, the investigation into a cure for the coronaviruses should have been pursued after the 2003 SARS I outbreak. “Then we wouldn’t be left behind,” he sighs. “Actually we are already too late. At the time, I urged colleagues to investigate further. There was money for it at first, but attention quickly dropped when the outbreak was over. ”


The lesson of the current pandemic must be: Develop vaccines and medicines against the most dangerous viruses known to man. And keep it up, because viruses change over time, which means that vaccines and medicines may have to be adapted. “The best adapted survives, as Darwin concluded and that certainly also applies to viruses,” concludes the professor who thinks that keeping a 1.5-meter distance will be necessary for a longer time.

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