UW doctor’s research may lead to a better COVID-19 vaccine

SEATTLE — A new study published by a team of researchers is looking at a new way to battle viruses that could give a major boost to future vaccines.

The long-term study looks at building nanoparticles from scratch instead of a more traditional route of using preexisting molecules and manipulating them. The hope is that building these artificial proteins that can be manipulated to assemble themselves into geometrical shapes that mimic viruses will ultimately trigger more protective antibodies in the immune system.

Initial work targeted HIV, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RVS) – a virus responsible for causing bronchitis.

According to Dr. George Ueda, the lead author on one of the studies and a translational postdoctoral scholar at the UW Medicine Institute for Protein Design, the same technology is being worked on with the National Institute of Health Vaccine Research Center.

“Efforts are underway to make COVID-attached versions of these particles,” said Ueda. “Some of the preliminary data looks promising.”

A number of more traditional COVID-19 vaccines are moving quickly through trials, meaning any coronavirus vaccines using this new vaccine design strategy will not be among the first ones available. Still, the initial findings indicate that it’s possible that a vaccine developed with this technology would have the potential to maximize immunity.

While SARS-CoV-2 is garnering added attention, the research could have long-lasting effects.

“It’s almost magical,” said Ueda while describing using the new technique on flu particles. “(It) leads to broad protection, so the hope is there is a universal flu vaccine so you wouldn’t have to go every season or year.”

Other papers released in conjunction with the paper by Ueda, and in collaboration with a team of doctors around the world, look at how HIV vaccine nanoparticles worked in rabbits and monkeys.

This collaborative research was led by UW Medicine, Scripps Research, and the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

You can read more about the new research focusing on vaccines and a new way of maximizing immunity by recognizing specific viruses in these recently published medical journals:

Tailored Design of Protein Nanoparticle Scaffolds for Multivalent Presentation of Viral Glycoprotein Antigens

Structural and Functional Evaluation of De Novo-designed, two-component nanoparticle carriers for HIV Env trimer immunogens

Targeting HIV ENV Immunogens to B Cell Follicles in Non-human Primates through Immune Complex or Protein Nanoparticle Formulations