Australian scientists make ‘crazy interesting’ COVID breakthrough that could provide a way to fight the virus

Scientists at the University of Sydney in Australia have discovered a naturally occurring protein in the lungs that blocks COVID and creates a barrier to the virus that may explain why some people get sick and die from the virus while others never even get ill.

(Video Credit: 10 News First)

The protein, LRRC15, attaches itself to the virus just as if it is velcro. It blocks particles from binding with more vulnerable cells and it reduces the chances of infection according to the Daily Mail.

Here’s the kicker. The protein doesn’t appear to be present in the human body until it is infected. That’s when it shows up.

The protein jumpstarts the body’s response to the virus. The discoverers of LRRC15 hope that it will offer a way to develop new drugs to combat COVID.

Those who succumb to the virus are thought to not produce enough of the protein or that it is produced too late to make a difference.

A study from London seems to support this premise according to the Daily Mail. It examined blood samples for LRRC15. The study found that the protein was lower in the blood of patients with severe COVID in comparison to those who contracted a mild case of the virus. The authors are now developing two strategies against COVID that utilize the protein and they could potentially work across multiple variants.

One of the strategies will target the nose as a preventative treatment. The other will take aim at the lungs for serious cases.

The study was led by Professor Greg Neely. He claims that his team is one of three internationally that have discovered the protein at the same time. The other teams are from Oxford University in the UK and Yale and Brown universities in the US.

“For me, as an immunologist, the fact that there’s this natural immune receptor that we didn’t know about, that’s lining our lungs and blocks and controls the virus, that’s crazy interesting,” Neely exclaimed, according to the Daily Mail.

Postdoctoral researcher and study co-author Dr. Lipin Loo reported that the protein was far more present in the lungs of people with COVID than those who don’t have it. To him, that suggests it was already helping to protect people from the virus.

“When we stain the lungs of healthy tissue, we don’t see much of LRRC15, but then in COVID-19 lungs, we see much more of the protein,” Loo commented.

“We think this newly identified protein could be part of our body’s natural response to combating the infection creating a barrier that physically separates the virus from our lung cells most sensitive to COVID-19,” he added.

It is hoped that the discovery will help with the development of antiviral and antifibrotic medicines to treat COVID and other viruses where lung fibrosis occurs. It could help with lung fibrosis itself, which is a disease that causes the lungs to be irreparably damaged and scarred. The protein is expressed in fibroblast cells, the cells that control lung fibrosis.

“We can now use this new receptor to design broad-acting drugs that can block viral infection or even suppress lung fibrosis,” Neely stated, according to the Daily Mail.

In October, researchers at the University of Oxford determined that some people will never contract COVID because of their genes. They contend that some people with a particular mutation produce larger antibody responses after getting vaccinated. Approximately 30 to 40 percent of people have the gene known as HLA-DQB1*06.

In December, another study found that those with COVID who suffered a loss of smell or taste were twice as likely to have antibodies long after infection.


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