Scientists hope new inhaler could stop you getting Covid

Dr Andrew Old, Deputy Director-General and Head of the Public Health Agency, holds a media briefing to provide an update on the COVID-19 response and winter health

A new inhaler therapy that alters genetic data in the lungs to stop coronavirus infections is on the horizon.

The therapy works by delivering nanoparticles into the lungs that contain tiny molecular scissors that snip genetic information that instructs the body to produce an enzyme called cathepsin L.

This enzyme is known to play a key role in coronaviruses and other respiratory infections, enabling the virus to enter host cells and multiply.

Without “cathepsin L,” the coronavirus has trouble taking root — a treatment that scientists hope could be used before or after dangerous events, such as plane trips or weddings.

“Potential treatments for Covid”

“We’re looking at whether it could be treated with an aerosol so that people can take their inhalers with them to major sporting events or long-haul flights and inhale shortly before or shortly after,” said senior author Qianben Wang, a professor in the Department of Pathology at Duke University School of Medicine. Take a puff to reduce risk.

“Our findings suggest that this technology represents a unique strategy for controlling coronavirus infection and should serve as a potential treatment for Covid.”

The proposed treatment exploits the bacteria's natural defense mechanism called Crispr. File photo/123RF   Scientists hope new inhaler could stop you getting Covid
The proposed treatment exploits the bacteria’s natural defense mechanism called Crispr. File photo/123RF

So far, the therapy has only been successfully tested in animals — but the Duke researchers hope they could conduct human trials “in the near future.”

The therapy exploits a bacterial natural defense mechanism called Crispr, which allows microbes to detect and destroy other organisms by targeting specific parts of their DNA.

In this case, it wasn’t DNA that was altered, but messenger RNA — the molecules that deliver DNA’s instructions to the cell, where they were affected.

Targeting these messenger molecules means the therapy is more short-lived than directly tweaking the genes, and therefore has no long-term effects on the body. The effects may last for several days.

And because the therapy doesn’t rely on identifying a specific virus, it should work on all coronavirus variants, as well as other coronaviruses, such as the common cold or MERS.

Treatment available for future coronaviruses

The researchers believe it could also be used as a treatment, reducing the amount of virus in the body and preventing a deadly immune overreaction.

“To our knowledge, this is the first study to demonstrate that Crispr can be used to treat coronavirus infections,” added Professor Wang.

“This nanosystem could be easily adapted for infection by other DNA viruses, such as hepatitis B, in the future.

“This approach can be used to combat infection with the current coronavirus and future emerging/re-emerging coronaviruses.”

The research was published in the journal Nature Chemical Biology.

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