By mining the immune cells of a patient that beat the MERS virus, scientists have identified a protein that could help prevent and treat the deadly disease.
When tested in mice, the protein targeted the virus that causes Middle East respiratory syndrome. The protein could be used to develop vaccines or treatments to protect people from the MERS virus, an international team of researchers reports July 27 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The protein, an antibody named LCA60, seems to latch onto the MERS virus, preventing it from infecting a cell. When given to infected mice, LCA60 dramatically reduced the amount of the MERS virus in the lungs within days. Even in the worst-case scenario, for every 100 viruses at the start of the treatment, only one remained after three days. In most mice, the virus became undetectable within five days of treatment. The antibody fought the virus whether it was given a day before or a day after the mice were infected.
No vaccines or treatments currently exist to treat MERS, which causes symptoms such as fever, cough and shortness of breath and can be fatal. An ongoing MERS outbreak in South Korea and China has caused 186 infections and 36 deaths as of July 27.