Scientists from the University of Wisconsin say tiny antibodies found in the predators could potentially prevent future pandemics from infecting humans
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Future pandemics could be prevented from transferring to humans by tiny antibodies found in sharks, according to academics.
Researchers have found miniature proteins in the blood of the sea predators which they believe may stop SARS-CoV-2 and its variants from infecting cells in people.
As a result, these antibodies may help scientists around the world prepare for future outbreaks.
The proteins are known as variable antigen receptors (VNAR) and those in sharks are around a tenth of the size of those found in humans.
Study author Aaron LeBeau, a pathologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said in a statement: “The big issue is there are a number of coronaviruses that are poised for emergence in humans.
“What we’re doing is preparing an arsenal of shark VNAR therapeutics that could be used down the road for future SARS outbreaks. It’s a kind of insurance against the future.
“We think they’re the next big thing. This is the first paper to show their effectiveness against an infectious disease.
“These small antibody-like proteins can get into nooks and crannies that human antibodies cannot access.
“They can form these very unique geometries. This allows them to recognize structures in proteins that our human antibodies cannot.”
Researchers at the university say the shark VNARs successfully neutralised WIV1-CoV, a coronavirus capable of infecting human cells but currently found in bats.
They were also found to work against SARS-CoV-1, which caused the first SARS outbreak in 2003
It is hoped the study may help find a way to build immunity against viruses without needing to vaccinate billions of people.
The university worked with academics from the University of Minnesota as well as Scottish biomedical company Elasmogen.
Caroline Barelle, CEO of Elasmogen., said: “What is exciting is that these new potential drug molecules against SARS-CoV-2 differ in their mechanism of action compared to other biologics and antibodies targeting this virus.
“It is another great example of how Elasmogen can effectively deliver potent therapeutic molecules.”
Sharks are believed to have been in the world’s oceans for more than 450 million years – longer than there have been trees.
The apex predators have survived five mass extinctions although fossils show the asteroid strike which wiped out the dinosaurs also killed off many of the largest species.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.