More than a year ago, the gene sequence of the virus that causes COVID-19 was first published by Chinese researchers.
The publication has sparked a global competition to develop vaccines to control the rapidly spreading coronavirus. First reported in the United States January 21, 2020.
Since then, multiple vaccines have been developed faster than ever and are beginning to be distributed to control pandemics. Much of the foundation for enabling its rapid vaccine development took place at the Argonne National Laboratory on the outskirts of Chicago.
The key to that task is Argonne’s Advanced Photon Source (APS).
Dr. Stephen Streiffer is Deputy Director of Science and Director of Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory. He is also one of the co-leaders of the Department of Energy’s COVID-19 Response Group.
“APS is effectively a large X-ray microscope that can examine both the atomic structure of the proteins that make up the virus and the proteins that the virus uses to interact with and infect the human body,” Streiffer said. Said. “If you think of the process as a locking and key mechanism that must be compatible with each other in essentially (specific) ways for proteins to function, what you can do with that atomic structure is reverse engineering, which produces medical treatment. ”
Streiffer states that research in Argonne since the early 2000s on other viruses has helped to respond quickly to the threat of the coronavirus.
Researchers at the National Institutes of Health have focused on the importance of so-called “peplomers.” This is the mechanism that allows the virus to attach to cells and infect them.
“What they could do was show that at certain points in the infection cycle, peplomers basically changed their atomic shape and moved from their pre-infection state to the point of latching on human cells.” Streiffer said. .. “And it was very important in understanding how to develop a vaccine.”
“We knew not only that peplomer proteins are the locks needed for gum-up, but which approach is most likely to gum-up that lock,” said Streiffer.
Most importantly, we have learned that the key to developing an effective vaccine is to create antibodies that target the pre-infectious state of peplomer.
“It was a big step forward,” said Streiffer.
Researchers then incorporated that knowledge into the fight against COVID-19.
“They were able to do that decade very quickly … and literally in days and weeks transform it into the mRNA (messenger RNA) approach specifically used in the Moderna vaccine,” Streiffer said. Said. “And that’s essentially the same approach that Pfizer used.”
The messenger mRNA vaccine tells human cells to make only peplomer and peplomer, not the complete virus. The body’s immune system then develops antibodies to fight the spike protein. Later, when the vaccinated person is exposed to the coronavirus, these antibodies prevent the peplomer from adhering to the cells, thereby preventing infection.
Argonne also uses supercomputers and artificial intelligence to help model virus spread in Chicago in a variety of scenarios and guide Chicago and the state’s virus mitigation efforts. Researchers have created a virtual Chicago on a supercomputer. This virtual computer can use “agents” or avatars to model virus spread in a variety of scenarios and time periods.
“One of the things we’re currently working on is the most effective way people can be vaccinated to end the pandemic as soon as possible,” says Streiffer. “This is really a logistics issue. How do you get the available supply of vaccines to the most vulnerable as soon as possible to limit the spread of the infection? Where to direct the pharmacy and distribute the vaccine What part of the city are you targeting to be most effective? “
According to Streiffer, there is a scientific consensus that about 70% to 80% of the population needs to be vaccinated or infected with the virus to reach so-called “herd immunity”, and the virus can no longer be used. There is. Spreads effectively. At that point, he said the return to something normal could soon continue.
“In an ideal world, it could take up to two weeks,” Streiffer said. “This is actually demonstrated not only by modeling, but also by studies conducted on university campuses.”
Argonne’s modeling of virus spread also helped inform the city’s policy of reopening school for face-to-face learning. Computer models suggest that schools are not the primary vector of virus infections, but Streiffer said virus infections are ultimately a “zero-sum game.”
“The best way to think about children returning to school is that what we are trying to control is the complete transmission of the virus,” vaccinations teachers and other school workers. Said Streiffer, who emphasized the importance of.
“When we get our children back to school, the result is a limited transmission of the virus, and we need to balance it with other infection mechanisms we have, such as the people who gather in restaurants.” Streiffer said. “This is a zero-sum game. Therefore, if you want your child to go back to school, you need to be more restrictive of other types of gatherings to prevent it from becoming a problem.”
Note: This story will be updated in the video.
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