HIV Vaccine With mRNA Technology
First COVID-19 cases were reported by the end of 2019 in China. It was around a year & a half back, however, it may as well have been another lifetime.
From then, the world has got familiar with an outbreak, understood how to cope with it, and fought to address it. The scar brought by the outbreak is deep, with the infection having killed 29 lakhs individuals and counting.
Throughout the time, steered by the exigency of the outbreak, scientists across the world have been engrossed in work attempting to crack COVID-19 and all about it, making the novel SARS-CoV-2 one of the rapidly explored and understood pathogen ever.
This has lead to the development of a library of details obtained from a worldwide collaboration that is remarkable in scale. Studies have not only handled the COVID-19 effects on the human body, however, even its potential effect on mental health.
Many years’ worth of study has been developed on and transformed into potential vaccines that have already been distributed among an extensive section of the public.
Being the quickest vaccine formulated and approved for use, COVID-19 jabs are popularly considered as one of the greatest medical breakthroughs by humans. This development not only just assures to evict pandemic from the world, but also is claimed as a discovery for a problem that has disturbed the medical community for several years: HIV.
The fundamentals: Variants, mutations & strains
Immunology & medical-related jargon is currently common and emerges in daily conversations with the outbreak leaving no part of the globe untouched. The recent among these are variants and mutations, terms that impart the evolving warning of COVID-19.
The novel SARS-CoV-2 virus is a coronavirus strain. Out of all coronaviruses, seven have been found to infect the human body. These are MERS-CoV & SARS-CoV that cause MERS & SARS diseases, and four others that result in a mild common cold-HCoV-NL63, HCoV-229E, HCoV-HKU1, and HCoV-OC43.
Strains while circulating in a host population get mutations as viruses naturally acquire.
The virus comprises ribonucleic acid (RNA). Hence, as it divides, it can provide errors to the new RNA code.
These result in modifications in how genes are translated and this causes mutations. A mutation occurs when changes are brought in viruses due to continuous multiplication-induced errors. This causes small changes in the virus’s structure, and by extension in its properties.
Variants comprising particular mutations are emerging as these mutations accelerate and are spread through various groups of hosts. These variants like the South African or UK variant, transmitted through a section of their own among uninfected hosts.
When a variant comprises a change that provides an advantage to virus-like the capability to evade the immune system or spread faster, it can begin to transmit fastly and dominate in genes from a geographical location.
Various viruses including respiratory viruses infect and mutate in different ways.
When compared with the influenza virus, which undergoes rapid mutations, coronavirus mutates slowly. The influenza A virus, which mainly infects birds and results in avian flu, is numbered in combinations of N & H antigens, with 18 separate numbers for H antigen & 11 for N antigen. This, and the continuous mutations, needs constant updates to the flu vaccines yearly.
Variolation, inoculation, vaccines
In a currently-known tale, the forerunner of vaccine appeared via inoculation against smallpox, which was made famous by Edward Jenner by the end of the 1700s. Jenner is known for making the world’s first vaccine for smallpox.
Injection as a practice was common in Asian medicine before, via the procedure of variolation. This involves acquiring material derived from the scabs of a small infected person and placing it into outer scratches on the skin. This system was common in India & China before it was presented to Europe by British aristocrat & writer Mary Wortley Montagu in the year 1721
By the half of the 1760s, people had started vaccinating themselves and individuals around them.
Jenner was the very first to diligently record the treatment, do it methodically, as well as scientifically show its efficacy by subjecting vaccinated volunteers to contaminated material. After Jenner released his outcomes with the Royal Society, inoculation ended up being commonly adopted & understood.
The vaccination process works by introducing a weakened type of disease-causing pathogen-such as bacteria or virus-or a part of it like the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, into the body.
The immune system of humans quickly identifies the foreign particle and acts immediately. Initially, the generic innate immune response is activated. After that, a more modified adaptive immune response occurs in a few days. The initial one is a blanket preliminary protection as the body gets ready for the next, which is more customized and potent for nullifying the pathogen.
Vaccines generally take many years, even decades to trial and test before they can be launched. They require to be initially tested for safety and later for efficacy within large groups of individuals for a long time period. Subjecting immunized humans to a pathogen similarly to what Jenner did no longer is regarded as ethical.
The COVID-19 jabs are the first-ever rapidly developed, tested, and introduced vaccines. The other fastest vaccines developed were for mumps, which took 4 years, and then Ebola, which took 5 years. One of the remarkable technology that made this happen was the use of mRNA or messenger ribonucleic acid technology.
History of mRNA
mRNA, as the name imparts, is generally a messenger particle that gives commands to the body for mimicking the virus production within the body, prior to the self-destruction of mRNA after it is read. The methodology is distinct and particularly safe since no real pathogen or biological element of the same is required for it to invade human bodies: The mRNA is just a collection of instructions that order the body to make an unfamiliar molecule (such as just the virus’s spike protein) which the immune system of the same body identifies and attacks immediately.
The procedure generates the needed antibodies for staving off the COVID-19 infection without really getting exposed to any virus part.
mRNA was a demanding technology to work with during the end of the 20th century since the synthetic form of the molecule itself is scientifically an alien body when it invades the system. This resulted in an immune reaction to the mRNA within animals prior to its reading or decoding and was mostly fatal. Hence, interest and funding in mRNA studies were less until immunologists Drew Weissman and Katalin Karikó demonstrated in 2005 that synthetic mRNA can be improved to prevent detection by the immune system.
Novel HIV vaccine
The jump into mRNA is showing to be profitable in other means as well, and for other ailments.
The hunt for the development of an HIV vaccine considerably helped the development of a COVID vaccine, which was developed with the assistance of infrastructure that HIV scientists had put into place.
The exploration into HIV has led to a worldwide network of testing sites, equipment, and labs for viral infection, which provided a substantial push to the initiatives to reduce the spread of COVID.
However, it currently seems that the mRNA work in COVID vaccines will in turn aid HIV patients, becoming a full circle. Now, a Morna vaccine that targets to utilize mRNA technology to prevent HIV is in progress.
This scheduled trial has been anteceded by a striking success in HIV trials. In February 2021, it was declared by Scripps Research, US, a scientific institution, and IAVI (International AIDS Vaccine Initiative), a non-profit scientific research organization, that a novel molecule is the first in trial to produce a 97% antibody response against the virus.
The unique jab, with the candidate molecule named eOD-60mer, was capable of activating distinct B cells, named naive B cells, that have never been subjected to any foreign body or antigen previously. The trigger of these cells subsequently led to the production of strong proteins named bNAbs (broadly Neutralizing Antibodies) against HIV.
HIV functions by aiming at the immune system straightforward, mainly by striking leukocytes that safeguard the body, resulting in the weakening of the immune system to dangerous degrees. The virus additionally multiplies at a faster pace such that the immune cells won’t be able to catch up, at the same time mutates in the process at a pace that surpasses antibody response.
However, in the 1990s, researchers uncovered 4 rare antibodies that could kill a variety of HIV strains-bNAbs. These antibodies can not just assist in shielding from HIV and effectively cure it but even prevent vertical transmission from mother to offspring.
The unique vaccine went through a Phase 1 Trial and evoked the target response in 97% of the individuals who got immunized in comparison to a placebo. The favorable outcomes are the inial phase in making an effective HIV vaccine.
Scripps Research and IAVI have collaborated with Moderna to develop & test mRNA vaccines to produce the same bNAbs. As mRNA is really malleable in terms of commands to be delivered, the technology is anticipated to substantially expedite the development of an effective and safe HIV vaccine in the upcoming years.
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Also Read: Notable Variants And Mutation Of SARS-CoV-2