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Belgian scientists find the protein that helps spread Covid-19

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The discovery opens the door to develop new treatments against the coronavirus

A group of scientists from the Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium) discovered one of the many “keys” that cells hide and that covid-19 uses to enter and spread throughout the human body, integrin-beta 1, a finding that opens the door to the development of new treatments against the coronavirus.

To cross the plasma membrane that covers the cells, covid-19 and the rest of the viruses use the proteins present in our cells as “locks” that manage to open to enter, reproduce and infect other neighbors, thus beginning the process of viral infection.

“Binding to beta-1 integrin promotes the entry of the virus into the cell. Once inside, the cell serves as a factory to build new viruses and then these viruses can spread to infect other cells or other individuals,” explains the professor at the Institute of Biomolecular Science and Technology at the University of Leuven and leader of the research, David Alsteens.

To reach this conclusion, the scientists used the technique of atomic force microscopy, which, in short, consists of fixing a single virus on the end of a fishing rod and throwing it on the surface of living cells and subsequently exerting a force to separate the virus from the surface if it adheres, says the bioengineer specialized in virology

Using various cell lines and different viruses, the scientists observed how beta-1 integrin functioned as a receptor and interacted with the virus.

Now the finding, discovered after five years of research, not only allows scientists to decipher how viruses interact with our cells, but also paves the way for developing treatments that prevent this “lock” from being activated by the virus.

“Each discovery of a new key opens up new possibilities to counteract the virus, for example, trying to block this new door and see what molecules can block it,” details Alsteens.

It remains, therefore, to see the infinite possibilities of this discovery that could even help to achieve more precise treatments against cancer, specifically, those known as therapies with oncolytic viruses.

These treatments consist of the introduction of a genetically modified virus directly into the patient’s tumor, infecting cancer cells and leaving healthy cells unharmed.

In these cases, the beta-1 integrin would serve to facilitate the introduction of these “fighters”.

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