Coronavirus: University of Pittsburgh scientists develop new COVID-19 nanobody treatment

PITTSBURGH — A team of scientists at the University of Pittsburgh has invented a nanobodies treatment against COVID-19 that could stem the tide of infections and help cure patients who have contracted the virus.

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Yi Shi, an assistant professor in the university’s department of Cell Biology, and his team created a treatment that is administered through inhalation, WPXI reported.

Shi believes inhalation may work better than current COVID-19 vaccines.

“So, basically, what this technology could do is, you can have a pretty convenient method by directly inhaling the nanobodies,” Shi told WPXI. “And because it’s directly inhaling into the lungs, where the infection happens, this is more effective than injecting into the blood.”

Nanobodies are small antigen-binding fragments that are derived from antibodies present in camelids -- such as camels and llamas -- and cartilaginous fishes, such as sharks, according to Science Direct.

The nanobodies developed by the Pittsburgh team are also active against mutations of the virus, including the delta variant, WPXI reported. They have been tested on hamsters, Shi told the television station.

“We don’t have direct evidence, we are still collecting data, but based on our analysis it looks like at least two types of nanobodies remain highly effective against the delta variant,” Shi told WPXI.

The professor added that studies found reductions of a million fold in particles found in animals’ lungs after COVID-19 infection, which he called “very encouraging.”

Shi’s team worked with scientists at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio to see how the nanobodies work against the virus. The team used a high-resolution imaging technology called cryoelectron microscopy to record the interactions, according to Fierce Biotech.

Shi teamed with University of Pittsburgh structural biologists Cheng Zhang and James Conway as well as pharmacologists, structural biologists and biochemists at Case Western Reserve, according to a statement from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

“I think it’s really important ... to collaborate with people outside of Pittsburgh (who) have different scientists, different expertise to tackle this really important problem,” Shi told WPXI.

The team is continuing animal testing but hopes human clinical trials can start soon, WPXI reported.

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