As an alternative to the lab work I would have been doing as part of my 6 month project, I have been tasked to research the human antibody response to the Coronavirus. Specifically, I will be looking at how we can use a particular therapeutic tool called a ‘retroviral vector’ in this context. A retrovirus is a special type of virus that has been used for decades in molecular biology research. Virologists can engineer these retroviruses to safely insert a gene or protein of interest for it to be expressed in target cells.
The current approach towards vaccine development involves taking an essential component called the spike protein, which is found on the surface of the virus, and using it to induce a specific antibody response in people. The antibodies produced would (ideally) neutralise the virus and prevent it from entering the cells. The strengthened immune system would then destroy the virus without it harming the host.
While this seems rather straightforward in principle, there are various complications and factors to consider. One aspect I am interested in is evaluating whether delivering numerous SARS-CoV-2 proteins into the patient (in addition to the spike protein alone) would be a more effective treatment.
Sahd Sajid is an Aziz Scholar, currently studying MSc Molecular Biology & Pathology at Imperial College London.