CLEVELAND, Ohio – A new diagnostic test for the coronavirus could make nose and throat swabs a thing of the past, researchers establish the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines for obese people, and super immune molecules from llamas may hold the key to outwitting viral mutations.
Here’s a summary of some of the latest coronavirus research findings for Saturday, July 2.
A skin patch that detects COVID-19 infection
Researchers in Japan are developing a new coronavirus test that they hope will take the place of unpleasant nose and throat swabs. It’s a patch that detects antibodies through the skin.
Results from nasal and throat swab tests are expensive, take a long time (4–6 hours), and require specialized equipment and training. Alternatively COVID-19 infection can be detected in as little as 20 minutes by measuring antibody levels in the blood – but that requires a blood draw or painful finger stick.
However, a group of scientists from the University of Tokyo have developed a new test that can quickly and accurately detect COVID-19 infection without using any blood at all.
The test uses a skin patch about the size of a Band-Aid with tiny, biodegradable microneedles on one side. The microneedles painlessly draw small amounts of fluid from the skin, and transfers them to a paper-based immunoassay biosensor designed to detect SARS-CoV-2 antibodies .
Researchers say the test delivers results in three minutes, can be adapted to detect antibodies from other diseases, and can be used safely for on-site, rapid screening in a variety of settings. The research was published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Vaccines have demonstrated benefit for people of all body weights
Obesity was identified early on in the pandemic as a risk factor for severe COVID-19. It was previously shown that people with obesity have a slightly reduced benefit from flu vaccines. However, until now, little was known about the effectiveness of coronavirus vaccines for people with obesity.
A new study published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology shows that vaccines greatly reduced the number of cases of severe COVID-19 disease for everyone regardless of their body size, to different degrees.
The researchers compared risk of severe disease in vaccinated versus non-vaccinated people at least 14 days after receiving their second dose. Over 9 million people were included in the study.
Individuals with healthy or high BMI who were vaccinated were around 70% less likely to be hospitalized than unvaccinated people. People with a healthy or a higher BMI were also around two-thirds less likely to die than their unvaccinated counterparts.
By comparison, vaccinated people who were underweight were found to be 50% less likely to be hospitalized or die form severe COVID-19 infection..
Super immune molecules derived from llamas may provide protection from future viruses
Tiny immune molecules from a llama could provide protection against a vast array of SARS-like viruses, including COVID-19, researchers say.
In a paper published in the journal Cell Reports, the scientist suggest that “super-immunity” molecules, known as nanobodies, could be precursors to a fast-acting, inhalable antiviral treatment or spray that could potentially be stockpiled and used globally against the evolving pandemic and future viruses.
Llamas, camels, and alpacas have unique immune systems. They produce antibodies that are roughly one-tenth the size of normal ones, are exceptionally stable, and can firmly bind to disease targets.
Researchers discovered that by immunizing a llama against part of the COVID-19 virus, they could produce and isolate these tiny antibodies, called nanobodies, that recognized not just SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, but a vast array of other coronaviruses. Because of the unique properties of these molecules, researchers can readily link multiple unique nanobodies in a chain, so if a virus attempts to escape by mutating, another nanobody is ready to keep it in check.
“Their superior stability, low production costs, and the ability to protect both the upper and lower respiratory tracts against infection mean they could provide a critical therapeutic to complement vaccines and monoclonal antibody drugs if and when a new COVID-19 variant or SARS-CoV-3 emerges,” explained the study’s lead author Yi Shi in a press release.
“While more research is needed, we believe that the broad protection, ultrapotent nanobodies we were able to isolate in the lab can be harnessed for use in humans.”