Researchers at the Butantan Institute, in São Paulo, are using innovative biotechnology techniques to develop an alternative vaccine against covid-19. The institute hopes that the new approach will serve as a kind of plan B, in case the vaccines made by the traditional model, already being tested in some countries, have not been satisfactory.
According to Butantan, the vaccine that the institute is developing uses a mechanism used by some bacteria to trick the human immune system: they produce small bubbles, or vesicles, made with material from their membranes to disrupt the defense cells. In this way, the immune system also starts to attack the bubbles, reducing the aggression against bacteria.
The institute’s researchers are thinking of doing the same, making these bubbles in the laboratory, but instead of using the bacterial membrane, they will attach surface proteins of the new coronavirus to the vesicles. Thus, in contact with the defense system, the bubbles would create an immune memory in the body, stimulating the production of specific antibodies against the coronavirus.
According to Butantan, vesicles are very immunogenic, that is, they have a high capacity to stimulate the immune response when in contact with the organism. According to the institute, recent studies show that they have a great capacity to activate defense cells of the organism.
“Around the world, and here in Brazil too, different techniques are being tested. Many of them are based on what was already being developed for other viruses, such as what caused the SARS outbreak. [síndrome respiratória aguda grave] in 2001. We hope they will work, but the fact is that no one knows if they will really protect. At this time of pandemic, it is not too much to try different strategies. Our approach will take longer to leave, but if those being tested do not work, we already have plans B, C or D ”, highlighted researcher Luciana Cezar Cerqueira Leite, from the Vaccine Development Laboratory of the Butantan Institute.
The research is being supported by the São Paulo State Research Support Foundation (Fapesp).