Skip to main content
Move the World.
Coronavirus Antibody

Lead Image © Dottedyeti / Adobe Stock

Scientists have discovered a coronavirus antibody that prevents the virus from being able to infect cultured cells.

This discovery — from a peer-reviewed study published Monday in Nature Communications — could lead to a breakthrough treatment or prevention of COVID-19, a disease that has infected 3.3 million people worldwide and killed 235,000 so far.

The Hunt for a Coronavirus Antibody

When a virus or bacteria infects the body for the first time, the immune system creates blood proteins called antibodies to help it identify and kill the pathogen if it ever turns up again in the future.

That means people with antibodies for the novel coronavirus have a level of immunity to it. Researchers have been exploring ways to use those antibodies as a potential weapon in the battle against COVID-19.

The researchers used genetically altered mice, designed to produce antibodies similar to those found in humans.

But all antibodies are not created equal — different antibodies can bind to different parts of a pathogen.

In some cases, the pathogen may still be able to infect a person even with an antibody stuck to it. In others, the antibody may neutralize the pathogen, killing its ability to infect human cells.

For this new study, researchers sought to find a coronavirus antibody that would neutralize SARS-CoV-2 by binding to the spike protein it uses to infect human cells.

And rather than looking for this antibody in the blood plasma of COVID-19 survivors, they discovered it using genetically altered mice that were designed to produce antibodies similar to the ones found in humans.

An Alternative to Convalescent Plasma

Scientists at Utrecht University, Erasmus Medical Center, and Harbour BioMed injected their transgenic mice with the spike proteins of several viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, SARS-CoV, and MERS.

This prompted the mice to produce 51 cells the researchers could use to create antibodies. The researchers then tested the antibodies to see if they could neutralize SARS-CoV-2 in cell cultures in the lab — and discovered one coronavirus antibody that could. Next, the researchers took the antibody — known as 47D11 — and altered it in the lab to create a fully human version.

"Such a neutralizing antibody has potential to alter the course of infection in the infected host, support virus clearance, or protect an uninfected individual that is exposed to the virus," Berend-Jan Bosch, the study's co-lead author, said in a press release.

The coronavirus antibody was also able to neutralize cell cultures of SARS-CoV, the coronavirus that spread across more than two dozen countries in 2003 and 2004, leading Bosch to note that it might be able to help us address future coronaviruses as well as the one that causes COVID-19.

Of course, just because an antibody can neutralize a virus in a petri dish doesn't mean it'll be able to do the same thing in humans. The researchers now plan to focus their attention on animal models as a next step in development.

If the coronavirus antibody is effective at neutralizing SARS-CoV-2 in humans, though, it could prove far more useful as a treatment than convalescent plasma, Babak Javid, a consultant in infectious diseases at Cambridge University Hospitals who wasn't involved in the study, told Newsweek.

Rather than relying on plasma donations from coronavirus survivors, manufacturers could easily produce large quantities of the single antibody, Javid said, adding that the use of these manufactured antibodies would eliminate the safety concerns inherent in blood transfusions.

We'd love to hear from you! If you have a comment about this article or if you have a tip for a future Freethink story, please email us at tips@freethink.com.

Up Next

If you want to understand a problem, talk to the people working on solutions. Join us as we meet the people and explore the ideas on the frontlines of an unprecedented global response.

Public Health
Major League Baseball Joins Massive Coronavirus Antibody Study
Coronavirus Antibody Study
Public Health
Major League Baseball Joins Massive Coronavirus Antibody Study
More than 10,000 Major League Baseball players and employees agreed to have their blood tested for a massive coronavirus antibody study.

More than 10,000 Major League Baseball players and employees agreed to have their blood tested for a massive coronavirus antibody study.

Public Health
Lab Plans to Ship 20 Million Coronavirus Antibody Tests Per Month
Coronavirus Antibody Tests
Public Health
Lab Plans to Ship 20 Million Coronavirus Antibody Tests Per Month
Abbott Laboratories is shipping millions of coronavirus antibody tests to hospitals and labs across the United States.

Abbott Laboratories is shipping millions of coronavirus antibody tests to hospitals and labs across the United States.

Public Health
Children and Seniors to Join Oxford’s Coronavirus Vaccine Trial
Coronavirus Vaccine Trial
Public Health
Children and Seniors to Join Oxford’s Coronavirus Vaccine Trial
Oxford University is enrolling people older than 70 and children between the ages of 5 and 12 in a Phase 2 coronavirus vaccine trial.

Oxford University is enrolling people older than 70 and children between the ages of 5 and 12 in a Phase 2 coronavirus vaccine trial.

Public Health
Twin Study Suggests Genes Factor Into COVID-19 Symptoms
COVID-19 Symptoms
Public Health
Twin Study Suggests Genes Factor Into COVID-19 Symptoms
Genetic factors may explain about 50% of the differences in people’s COVID-19 symptoms, according to a study of more than 2,600 twins in the U.K.

Genetic factors may explain about 50% of the differences in people’s COVID-19 symptoms, according to a study of more than 2,600 twins in the U.K.

Public Health
Mobile Decontamination Units Could Extend Supply of PPE
Supply of PPE
Public Health
Mobile Decontamination Units Could Extend Supply of PPE
To extend the supply of PPE at hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic, a team of engineers transformed a shipping container into a decontamination unit.

To extend the supply of PPE at hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic, a team of engineers transformed a shipping container into a decontamination unit.

Public Health
Scientists Analyze Sewage to Track Coronavirus Infections
Track Coronavirus Infections
Public Health
Scientists Analyze Sewage to Track Coronavirus Infections
Scientists are attempting to track coronavirus infections by analyzing sewage for signs of the virus’ genetic material.

Scientists are attempting to track coronavirus infections by analyzing sewage for signs of the virus’ genetic material.

Public Health
New Study Boosts Case for At-Home Coronavirus Tests
at-home coronavirus tests
Public Health
New Study Boosts Case for At-Home Coronavirus Tests
A new study eliminates one major argument against at-home coronavirus tests: that patients won’t be able to collect usable samples themselves.

A new study eliminates one major argument against at-home coronavirus tests: that patients won’t be able to collect usable samples themselves.

Public Health
University Students Step up to Expand Coronavirus Testing
Expand Coronavirus Testing
Public Health
University Students Step up to Expand Coronavirus Testing
University students are helping expand coronavirus testing by volunteering their time to help process thousands of test samples per day in school labs.

University students are helping expand coronavirus testing by volunteering their time to help process thousands of test samples per day in school labs.

Public Health
Here Is Every Potential Coronavirus Treatment and Vaccine
coronavirus treatment
Public Health
Here Is Every Potential Coronavirus Treatment and Vaccine
Across the globe, researchers are scrambling to find a coronavirus treatment or vaccine that could bring the COVID-19 outbreak to a swift end.

Across the globe, researchers are scrambling to find a coronavirus treatment or vaccine that could bring the COVID-19 outbreak to a swift end.