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Discovery could help stop Covid-19, say Swiss scientists

Someone getting a vaccination
Will the discovery by a team of Swiss, German and American researchers lead to a vaccine for Covid-19? © Keystone / Gaetan Bally

A protein produced by the human immune system can strongly inhibit corona viruses, including SARS-CoV2, the pathogen causing Covid-19, say Swiss researchers.

A study by an international team, including the Institute of Virology (IVI) at the University of Bern and the Swiss Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office, shows that a protein produced by the immune system prevents the novel corona virus from fusing with host cells. The so-called LY6E protein prevents corona viruses from triggering an infection.

This finding by researchers from Switzerland, Germany and the US raises hopes for new therapies.

“We wanted to find out which factors prevent corona viruses from spreading from animals to humans,” said the IVI’s Volker Thiel in a statement released on Tuesday. “Now we have succeeded in finding the needle in the haystack, so to speak.”

Researchers had previously discovered that the LY6E protein increases the infectivity of influenza viruses that cause flu. What is new is the discovery that LY6E has the opposite effect on corona viruses in that it prevents infection.

This was successfully demonstrated in an animal model. The researchers note that the mouse corona virus used in the experiment differs significantly from the pathogen causing the current Covid-19 pandemic, causing hepatitis rather than respiratory diseases. Still, it’s a valuable finding, they say.

“Our study provides new insights into how important these antiviral genes are for the control of viral infection and for an adequate immune response against the virus,” said Thiel.

The study has been published in the journal Nature MicrobiologyExternal link.


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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR