Some say, ‘even monkeys can do it’, to ignore easy and trivial tasks. However, when it comes to defeating an unseen enemy, the SARS-CoV-2 novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, the monkey might just show us a glimmer of hope.
Two new studies of apes have shown that nonhuman primates can develop protective immunity against new corona viruses. Understanding immune protection, an immune condition against infection, is very important for antibody treatment and vaccine development. And because of this, recent revelations offer hope that vaccine development and antibody treatment can be successful among humans as well.
COVID-19 has infected more than 56 lakh people and killed more than 3.5 lakh worldwide on Thursday, May 28.
When attacked by pathogens, our immune system produces proteins called antibodies to fight infection. If an infected person can produce enough antibodies, he can recover from the disease caused by the pathogen. However, among all the uncertainties surrounding COVID-19 cure, a critical question remains, ‘does infection with SARS-CoV-2 produce immune protection against repeated exposure’.
Even when the evidence points in two directions, experts agree that there is currently not enough data to determine whether humans are protected from repeated exposure. A study learn in April showed that monkeys were suitable animals for testing prevention techniques and treatment options for COVID-19. Building on this study, two new studies, published last week, explore new coronavirus infections among monkeys.
In this study, researchers from well-known institutions from the US and other countries explored two main research questions: whether initial exposure to the corona virus protects a person from re-infection and whether vaccination builds protective immunity.
In research led by Harvard researcher from India Abishek Chandrashekar, nine adult monkeys were tested for re-infection 35 days after initial exposure. Because these nine apes showed little or no symptoms after the second infection, the researchers concluded that the animals had succeeded in developing protective immunity after initial exposure. However, further research is needed to determine how long this immunity lasts.
“Strict clinical studies will be needed to determine whether SARS-CoV-2 infection effectively protects against repeated exposure of SARS-CoV-2 in humans,” the researchers said. The assumption that early infection and recovery will produce protective immunity is the basis for concepts such as ‘passport immunity’ – free permission to carry out daily activities, issued to recover COVID-19 patients because they have developed antibodies.
Separately learn led by other Harvard researchers Jingyou Yu, the researchers examined candidate vaccines that produce antibody responses among infected subjects. After vaccinating 35 adult apes, the researchers found that the immune response among the animals was similar to the natural immunity developed after initial infection. In fact, the level of antibodies in vaccinated monkey blood is comparable to that seen in humans recovering from SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Although coronavirus strains in monkeys and humans are different, the researchers hope that the results of the study can help and accelerate research on potential vaccines against COVID-19.
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