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Chinese doctors say they may be able to cure coronavirus without a vaccine

Published May 19th, 2020 11:44AM EDT
coronavirus cure
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  • A new type of coronavirus treatment could give COVID-19 patients relief.
  • Scientists in China injected antibodies isolated from recovered coronavirus patients and injected them into mice that still had an infection.
  • The researchers say the treatment reduced the viral load by a factor of 2,500, which is incredibly dramatic.
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Ever since the novel coronavirus pandemic began in earnest, spreading across China and then jumping borders to just about every country on Earth, we’ve wanted one thing: a vaccine. Researchers around the planet are working on various vaccine candidates right at this very moment, but vaccine development is often a slow and complicated process.

Now, a Chinese laboratory says it has developed a drug that may stop the virus in its tracks without the need for a vaccine. It’s currently being tested at Peking University, and if it proves to be safe and effective we may not have to wait for a vaccine in order to feel a bit safer in the midst of the pandemic.

Thus far, the drug has only been tested on animals, and more specifically, mice. However, results from those early trials appear promising. Speaking with AFP, Sunney Xie, director of Peking University’s Beijing Advanced Innovation Center for Genomics revealed that the treatment dramatically reduced the viral load in the mice.

The viral load is a measurement of the amount of the virus in the body. according to Xie, the “neutralizing antibodies” that the researchers injected into the mice cut the viral load “by a factor of 2,500.” Needless to say, that’s a massive reduction in the amount of virus in the body and could have a dramatic effect on health outcomes if the same proves to be true for humans.

So, where do these antibodies come from? Xie and his team took blood samples from 60 individuals who were infected with COVID-19 but then recovered. The scientists isolated the antibodies and then used them against the living virus in infected mice. The team’s research was published in the journal Cell.

The point of a vaccine is to give a patient’s body a blueprint for fighting off a virus before an infection happens. A weakened form of the virus is injected and, once the body’s immune system destroys it, it remembers how to fight and the antibodies it needs if the virus shows up again. This new treatment cuts out the middleman, so to speak, by injecting virus-fighting antibodies directly into a person’s bloodstream.

Think of it like recruiting a bunch of microscopic soldiers to fight the virus on your behalf rather than training your own soldiers the new techniques they need to use to beat it. Xie’s team is already preparing for human trials.

The researchers hope that these antibodies can be used to develop a drug that will fight off existing coronavirus infections while the world patiently waits for a vaccine to be developed, tested, and distributed.

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