The key that allows the Coronavirus to attack cells has been discovered by the Catholic University of Louvain (UCLouvain) in Belgium. They were also successful in closing the lock, preventing the virus from interacting with and infecting the cell.

This discovery, which was published on May 10th in the scientific journal Nature Communications, gives hope for the development of an aerosol antiviral therapy that would eradicate the virus in the event of an infection or a high-risk contact, according to UCLouvain.

For the past two years, a team led by David Alsteens, PhD, of the UCLouvain Institute of Biomolecular Science and Technology has been working hard to understand the precise molecular mechanisms by which the virus infects a cell. To better understand the role of the SARS-CoV-2 spike (S) protein in the infection process, they investigated how sialic acids (SAs), a type of sugar residue found on the surface of cells, interact with it.

Previously, it was thought that the sugar residues that coat the cells promote cell recognition, allowing viruses to more easily identify their targets, but also serve as a point of attachment and facilitate cell infection.

The researchers discovered a sugar variant that interacts more strongly with the S protein than other sugars.

To put it another way, the university claims to have discovered the set of keys that allow the virus to open the cell door. As a result, the researchers decided to catch the virus in its own trap by preventing it from attaching to its host cell. They did this by blocking the S protein’s attachment points, preventing any interaction with the cell surface, much like a padlock on a cell’s entry door lock.

The benefit of this discovery, according to the researchers, is that it acts on the virus regardless of mutations. The researchers will now subject mice to tests to determine whether this virus binding site blocking works in the body. The findings should pave the way for the development of an antiviral therapy delivered via aerosol in the event of an infection or potentially hazardous contact.

In the future, this discovery could be used to combat other viruses with similar attachment factors.

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