The fear-inducing yearly visitor to the Cape might really be the key to limiting coronavirus epidemics.
Shark antibodies have been discovered to protect human cells from the virus that causes COVID-19, its variants, and related coronaviruses.
According to the researchers, these tiny antibody-like proteins known as VNARs, which are produced from shark immune systems, will not be accessible as a therapy in people right now. They can, however, aid in the prevention of future coronavirus epidemics.
“The big issue is there are a number of coronaviruses that are poised for emergence in humans,” said Aaron LeBeau, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of pathology.
“What we’re doing is preparing an arsenal of shark VNAR therapeutics that could be used down the road for future SARS outbreaks,” added LeBeau, who helped lead the study. “It’s a kind of insurance against the future.”
This potential treatment could be especially important for those with compromised immune systems who do not respond as well to vaccination, and may benefit from other treatments like antibodies.
The shark VNARs were able to neutralize WIV1-CoV, a coronavirus that is capable of infecting human cells but currently circulates only in bats — where SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, likely originated.
LeBeau and his lab in the School of Medicine and Public Health collaborated with researchers at the University of Minnesota and Elasmogen, a biomedical company in Scotland that’s developing therapeutic VNARs.
One-tenth the size of human antibodies, the shark VNARs can bind to infectious proteins in unique ways that bolster their ability to halt infection.