Snorting “superpower” nano bubbles up the nose could someday offer a new COVID-19 treatment that can prevent both current and future variants of SARS-CoV-2, suggests a new study in mice.
Scientists at Northwestern Medicine and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center recently discovered nano-sized particles that have the potential to block infection from a broad range of SARS-CoV-2 strains. Their research, recently published in the journal Nature Communications, has only been carried out in mice so far, but they have high hopes it could be developed into a potent tool against COVID-19.
The team discovered nano-bubbles containing the ACE2 protein (evACE2) in the blood of COVID-19 patients, which appear to have been created as part of the natural antiviral response. The evACE2 proteins are tiny fat bubbles in nanoparticle size that express the ACE2 protein. These bubbles effectively “trick” the virus, causing the virus spike protein to latch onto evACE2, instead of the protein on human cells which it usually uses to enter our cells. Once it's hooked onto evACE2, the virus will be rendered useless and should eventually be cleared out by the immune system.
To test out their idea, the researchers sprayed the nanobubbles up the noses of mice with COVID-19. They discovered the treatment was able to neutralize SARS-CoV-2 in mouse lungs, resulting in less disease-related lung injury. In turn, the mice were significantly less likely to die if they received the nasal-spray nanobubbles.
The best part is that, in theory, the nano bubbles will still be effective against variants as they can attach to a broad range of spike proteins. In fact, it might even work against other coronaviruses.
“Whenever a new mutant strain of SARS-CoV-2 surges, the original vaccine, and therapeutic antibodies may lose power against alpha, beta, delta, and the most recent omicron variants,” Dr Huiping Liu, study co-senior author and an associate professor of pharmacology and of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, explained in a statement.
“However, the beauty of evACE2 is its superpower in blocking broad strains of coronaviruses, including the current SARS-CoV-2 and even future SARS coronaviruses from infecting humans.”
Once again, this has only been carried out on mice so far, so human trials are still needed before we’re even close to seeing this novel therapeutic in the real world. Nevertheless, the researchers are optimistic that it could potentially be used as a nasal spray used to both prevent and treat COVID-19.
“It remains urgent to identify novel therapeutics,” Liu said. “We think evACE2 can meet the challenges and fight against broad strains of SARS-CoV-2 and future emerging coronaviruses to protect the immunocompromised (at least 2.7 percent of U.S. adults), unvaccinated (94 percent in low-income countries and more than 30 percent in the U.S.) and even vaccinated from breakthrough infections.”