Cellular immunity elicited by existing Covid-19 vaccines can fight the Omicron Covid variant, according to a study.
The yet to be peer-reviewed study, which focussed on Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson's Covid shots, showed that vaccines will protect against severe disease even if the antibody responses against the strain are not as strong or durable, the Financial Times reported.
"These data suggest that current vaccines may provide considerable protection against severe disease with the Sars-Cov-2 Omicron variant despite the substantial reduction of neutralising antibody responses," the researchers from Harvard medical school wrote in the study.
Previous evidence suggests that the existing vaccines lose antibody response when pitted against Omicron.
A third shot at least partially restores that antibody protection, and countries have been racing to scale up their booster programmes to avoid new restrictions.
But vaccines are still expected to protect against severe disease, and health authorities have said they would closely examine evidence such as the one contained in the new study to decide whether a switch to Omicron-targeted vaccines is necessary, the report said.
Early findings from studies in South Africa, the US, and the UK suggest that Omicron spreads faster but appears to be milder than previous variants. However, it is not clear yet if this is because of the variant itself, or because most of the world has either been infected or vaccinated or a combination of the two factors.
However, scientists have said that its high transmissibility, coupled with uneven vaccine coverage, could still mean health systems worldwide come under pressure as many more people get infected.
The World Health Organisation has repeatedly called for a more equitable distribution of vaccines. The global health body has set a target of 70 per cent coverage in all nations by mid-2022.
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Toronto- Even as the newly reported Omicron variant is poised to replace Delta as the dominant variant across the world, a study led by an Indian-origin researcher shows that many mutations in the variant allow it to bond with human cells far more efficiently than previous strains.
The Omicron variant was first identified in South Africa in late November, and has since spread rapidly to 106 countries. The variant is now the dominant strain in many countries including the US, the UK, Denmark among others.
Of all the variants of coronaviruses so far, Omicron is the most heavily mutated with more than 30 mutations on its spike protein, which the virus uses to enter human cells. The variant also harbours a high number of mutations in regions of the spike protein that antibodies recognise, potentially dampening their potency.
Researchers from the University of British Columbia, Canada, studied Omicron using cryo-electron microscopy - a technique that provides images of the virus at incredibly high resolution.
The results, published pre-print and not peer-reviewed yet, showed that "Omicron has far greater binding affinity than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus" due to new bonds created between the virus and human cell receptors, Dr Sriram Subramaniam, lead scientist, was quoted as saying to the Daily Mail.
In addition, the researchers tested Omicron against human and monoclonal antibodies, finding that the variant is more resistant to these immune system particles than other variants.
"The Omicron variant is unprecedented for having 37 spike protein mutations - that's three to five times more mutations than any other variant," Subramaniam, a biochemistry professor at the University, was quoted as saying in a statement.
According to Subramaniam, the increased mutations on the spike protein are important for two reasons: "Firstly, because the spike protein is how the virus attaches to and infects human cells. Secondly, because antibodies attach to the spike protein in order to neutralise the virus."
The team probed Omicron's mutations through microscopic imaging, and found that some of the mutations create additional bonds between the virus and ACE2 receptors - a human cell receptor located throughout the body, the report said.
These new mutations appear to "increase binding affinity", Subramaniam said, indicating that Omicron can attach more strongly to human cells.
The researchers compared Omicron's binding affinity to that of the Delta variant and the original strain of the coronavirus.
"Overall, the findings show that Omicron has far greater binding affinity than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus, with levels more comparable to what we see with the Delta variant," Subramaniam said.
Subramaniam's team also examined the Omicron spike protein's ability to evade both human antibodies and antibodies from monoclonal antibody treatments.
This analysis confirmed real-world data, showing that Omicron is more capable of evading antibodies than previous variants - meaning that treatments are less successful, the report said.
"Notably, Omicron was less evasive of the immunity created by vaccines, compared to immunity stemming from natural infection in unvaccinated Covid patients," Subramaniam said, adding "this suggests that vaccination remains our best defence against the Omicron variant."
Both the Omicron variant's increased binding affinity and its capacity to evade antibodies are "likely contributing factors to its increased transmissibility," Subramaniam said. (Agency)
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New York- Small, unique antibody-like proteins derived from the immune systems of sharks can help prevent SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, its variants, and related coronaviruses from infecting human cells, according to a new study.
The small proteins known as VNARs are one-tenth the size of human antibodies. But these can bind to infectious proteins in unique ways that bolster their ability to halt infection. The new class of drug is cheaper and easier to manufacture than human antibodies, and can be delivered into the body through various routes. However, it has yet to be tested in humans.
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison showed that the VNARs were able to neutralise WIV1-CoV - a coronavirus that is capable of infecting human cells, but currently circulates only in bats, where SARS-CoV-2 likely originated.
"The big issue is there are a number of coronaviruses that are poised for emergence in humans. What we're doing is preparing an arsenal of shark VNAR therapeutics that could be used down the road for future SARS outbreaks. It's a kind of insurance against the future," said Aaron LeBeau, Professor of pathology at the varsity.
"These small antibody-like proteins can get into nooks and crannies that human antibodies cannot access. They can form these very unique geometries. This allows them to recognise structures in proteins that our human antibodies cannot," LeBeau said. The team published its findings in the journal Nature Communications.
In the study, the researchers tested the shark VNARs against both infectious SARS-CoV-2 and a "pseudotype," a version of the virus that can't replicate in cells.
They identified three candidate VNARs from a pool of billions that effectively stopped the virus from infecting human cells. The three shark VNARs were also effective against SARS-CoV-1, which caused the first SARS outbreak in 2003.
One VNAR, named 3B4, attached strongly to a groove on the viral spike protein near where the virus binds to human cells and appears to block this attachment process. This groove is very similar among genetically diverse coronaviruses, which even allows 3B4 to effectively neutralise the MERS virus, a distant cousin of the SARS viruses.
The 3B4 binding site is also not changed in prominent variations of SARS-CoV-2, such as the delta variant. This research was conducted before the Omicron variant was discovered, but initial models suggest the VNAR would remain effective against this new variant, LeBeau said.
The second-most-powerful shark VNAR, 2C02, seems to lock the spike protein into an inactive form. However, this VNAR's binding site is altered in some SARS-CoV-2 variants, which likely decreases its potency.
Future therapies would likely include a cocktail of multiple shark VNARs to maximise their effectiveness against diverse and mutating viruses. LeBeau is also studying the ability of shark VNARs to help in the treatment and diagnosis of cancers. (Agency)
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London- While the Covid-19 crisis is not over yet with the new super mutant Omicron spreading to 38 countries, the next pandemic could be even more lethal, said the creator of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine Professor Sarah Gilbert.
Delivering the 44th Richard Dimbleby Lecture, Gilbert cautioned that it is increasingly obvious that "this pandemic is not done with us", and vaccines could also prove to be less effective against the Omicron variant, the BBC reported.
Gilbert, a professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford whose team developed the Covid vaccine now used in 170 countries, said the scientific advances made and knowledge gained in research fighting against the coronavirus must not be lost.
She also stressed on the need for more funding on pandemic preparedness.
"This will not be the last time a virus threatens our lives and our livelihoods. The truth is, the next one could be worse. It could be more contagious, or more lethal, or both," Gilbert was quoted as saying.
"We cannot allow a situation where we have gone through all we have gone through, and then find that the enormous economic losses we have sustained mean that there is still no funding for pandemic preparedness.
A"The advances we have made, and the knowledge we have gained, must not be lost," she said.
So far it is known that the Omicron variant's spike protein contained mutations known to increase the transmissibility of the virus.
"But there are additional changes that may mean antibodies induced by the vaccines, or by infection with other variants, may be less effective at preventing infection with Omicron."
Moreover, Omicron is said to appear less dangerous than previous variants like Delta, which has claimed more than 5 million lives, so far.
However, Gilbert said reduced protection against infection and mild disease would not necessarily mean reduced protection against severe illness and death.
"Until we know more, we should be cautious, and take steps to slow down the spread of this new variant."
The UK recorded 86 new cases of the Omicron variant on Sunday, taking the total so far to 246. In total, 43,992 cases and 54 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test were recorded on Sunday. (Agency)
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The rise in air pollution, coupled with lousy lifestyle habits, is causing a spike in respiratory diseases. According to a Lancet report, the contribution of chronic respiratory diseases in India increased from 4.5 per cent in 1990 to 6.4 per cent in 2016. With respiratory issues on the rise, there is an increased demand for natural solutions to treat such issues. Instead of conventional medicine, people are turning to alternative medical therapies to find cures for ailments.
Common Lung Disorders
Bronchitis is a health condition that causes inflammation in the airways of the lungs. This leads to narrowing of the air pathways and excess mucus causes wheezing, coughing and difficulty breathing. It is a chronic condition that interferes seriously with daily life.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
It is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that obstructs the airflow to the lungs. Symptoms of COPD include breathing difficulty, mucus (sputum) production, coughing, and wheezing. It can result from long-term exposure to irritating gases or particulate matter, most often from cigarette smoke. Those affected by COPD are at an increased risk of developing lung cancer, heart disease, and a variety of other conditions.
This is another variation of COPD. Bronchitis causes a similar build-up of mucus that can cause inflammation and coughing. The lungs' airways are constantly inflamed as chronic bronchitis often lasts for months on end. Symptoms of chronic bronchitis include incessant coughing, whistling sounds while breathing, wheezing and a tightening of the chest.
It is said that the cure for all ailments is available the natural way. Here are some of the alternative medicine approaches to treat respiratory disorders.
Alternative Medicinal Approaches to Treat Respiratory Disorders
Asthma is one of the most common lung diseases. One of the primary causes of asthma is allergies, which often result from the food consumed. It is crucial, therefore, to first prepare a diet that is suitable for an individual. Often, dairy products, meats, and certain nuts can increase the production of mucus.
Foods like these must be avoided. Also, antioxidants can prevent damage resulting from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Diet is important in this regard, as fruits and vegetables high in Vitamins A, C, and E can improve the condition of COPD patients.
Yoga and Exercise
Treatment of lung disorders often involves the use of the lungs to promote healthy breathing habits. Exercises like cycling, swimming, yoga etc. that create a need for full capacity breathing are of great importance. Exercising the diaphragm is important and simple activities can go a long way in the treatment of the same.
Pranayama, the practise of controlled breathing, is an integral part of alternative treatment for people suffering from respiratory issues. This extensive breathing practice helps to expand the lungs and improve the capacity of the lungs, which helps an individual breathe more freely.
Nasal irrigation systems like JalNeti using a Neti pot can help to rinse the sinuses, which may provide some relief from symptoms of respiratory allergies.
The traditional Chinese practice of acupuncture involves inserting thin needles into the skin to stimulate certain parts of the body. According to a study published in the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, people with allergic rhinitis who were given acupuncture treatments twice a week for eight weeks had fewer symptoms than those administered placebo.
It is important to remember that no one complementary or alternative therapy works well for everyone with respiratory issues. Therefore, a proper assessment is done before deciding on the approach to the treatment plan. For those considering alternative medicine for their respiratory problems, it is recommended to speak to an expert first and discuss the approach that may work best. (Vinoda Kumary, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Jindal Naturecure Institute)
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While most people have been affected by Covid-19 infections, some have naturally resisted the infectious disease, despite clearly being exposed to the virus.
According to researchers at the University College London, understanding this mechanism of resistance can lead to the development of universal vaccines against the debilitating virus, the BBC reported.
In the study published in the journal Nature, the team closely monitored hospital staff during the first wave of the pandemic -- including by taking regular blood samples.
The results showed one-in-10 had signs of being exposed, but never had symptoms, never tested positive, and never developed Covid-fighting antibodies in their blood.
This Covid-immunity likely came from the body learning how to fight viruses. Part of their immune system was able to get on top of the virus before it managed to take hold -- what's known as an "abortive infection", the team said.
Blood samples showed these people already had (as in before the pandemic) protective T-cells, which recognise and kill cells infected with Covid.
Their immune systems were already "poised" to fight the new disease, Dr Leo Swadling, one of the researchers was quoted as saying.
These T-cells were able to spot a different part of the virus than the bit most of the current vaccines train the immune system to find, the report said.
Vaccines are largely aimed at the spike protein, which covers the outer surface of the Covid virus. However, these rare T-cells were able to look inside the virus and find the proteins that are necessary for it to replicate.
"The healthcare workers that were able to control the virus before it was detectable were more likely to have these T-cells that recognise the internal machinery before the start of the pandemic," Swadling said.
These internal proteins are very similar in all related species of coronavirus, including the ones that are widespread and cause common cold symptoms. It means targeting these proteins with a vaccine could give some protection against all coronaviruses and new Covid variants.
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