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November 11, 2020 Wednesday 02:55:57 PM IST

Common cold antibodies could help protect against COVID-19

Science Innovations

Some antibodies created by the immune system during infection with common cold coronaviruses can also target and provide a degree of protection against COVID-19, finds new research by scientists at UCL and the Francis Crick Institute. In response to infection with a virus, the immune system creates antibodies to help fight it. These antibodies remain in the blood for a period after infection, and in the case of re-infection, they are able to tackle the virus again. In the research, published in Science, scientists found that some people, notably children, have antibodies reactive to SARS-CoV-2 in their blood, despite not ever having being infected with the virus. These antibodies are likely the result of exposure to other coronaviruses, which cause a common cold and which have structural similarities with SARS-CoV-2.

The researchers made this discovery while developing highly sensitive antibody tests for COVID-19. To see how well their assay tests were performing, they compared the blood of patients with COVID-19 to patients who had not had the disease. Surprisingly, they found that some people who had not been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 had antibodies in their blood which would recognise the virus. To confirm their findings, they analysed over 300 blood samples collected before the pandemic, between 2011 and 2018.

Nearly all samples had antibodies that reacted with common cold coronaviruses, which was expected given how everyone has been exposed to these viruses at some point in their lives.  However, a small fraction of adult donors, about 1 in 20, also had antibodies that cross-reacted with SARS-CoV-2, and this was not dependent on recent infection with a common cold coronavirus. Notably, such cross-reactive antibodies were found much more frequently in blood samples taken from children aged 6 to 16. In the lab, the researchers tested the antibodies they found in blood from uninfected people to confirm they are able to neutralise SARS-CoV-2. They found the cross-reactive antibodies target the S2 subunit of the spike protein on the surface of the virus.

A large study is now underway by researchers at UCL, the Crick and Imperial College London, to uncover the role that different antibodies and other immune defences play in protection against COVID-19 and how severely ill people become.

(Content Courtesy: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/2020/nov/common-cold-antibodies-could-help-protect-against-covid-19)



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