According to a new study, antibody-like proteins known as VNARs, taken from the immune system of sharks, can neutralize Covid-like viruses in a discovery that could aid the development of a cure against future coronaviruses.
The study, published on December 16, claimed that shark VNARs were able to neutralize a coronavirus that is capable of infecting humans, WIV1-CoV. This specific strain of coronavirus circulates only in bats, the alleged source of the current Covid-19 virus.
While the VNARs will not be immediately available to treat people during the current pandemic, scientists said that the knowledge that the shark-derived proteins can neutralize coronaviruses will aid the development of treatment and preventative medicines for possible future outbreaks.
“The big issue is there are a number of coronaviruses that are poised for emergence in humans,” Aaron LeBeau, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of pathology who helped lead the study, said in a statement, adding that the development of treatment for such zoological diseases before they make the jump to humans could prove useful.
“What we’re doing is preparing an arsenal of shark VNAR therapeutics that could be used down the road for future SARS [Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome] outbreaks. It’s a kind of insurance against the future,” he added.
Shark VNARs, which are one-tenth the size of human antibodies, can bind to infectious proteins in a unique manner that bolsters their ability to halt infection. “These small antibody-like proteins can get into nooks and crannies that human antibodies cannot access,” LeBeau claimed, noting that VNARs are capable of seeing structures with pathogens that human antibodies cannot.
LeBeau’s study is not the first one to note the potential neutralizing impact of VNARs for coronavirus. A UK based study published in June 2021 cited in-vitro experiments that highlighted the ability of VNARs to fight back against the deadly Covid-19 currently in circulation.