Sunday, October 17

Coronavirus: the case of the man with superantibodies against COVID-19 (and why it gives hope to scientists)

Ethe American writer John Hollis, 54 years old, thought he was going to get COVID-19 when a friend he shared a house with became infected and became seriously ill in April 2020.

“It was 2 weeks in which I felt a lot of fear”, dice John Hollis. “For 2 weeks andI expected the disease to hit me, but it never happened.

Hollis simply thought that he was lucky not to get the disease.

But in July 2020, in an absolutely casual way, Hollis mentioned this coexistence with a very sick person in a conversation with doctor Lance Liotta, a professor at George Mason University, in the United States, where Hollis works on communication tasks.

Liotta, who researches ways to combat the coronavirus, invited Hollis to volunteer in a scientific study of the virus that was being developed at the university.

In this way, Hollis discovered that not only had he contracted COVID-19, but that his body had superantibodies that made him permanently immune to the disease.In other words, the viruses entered his body, but could not infect his cells and make him sick.

“This has been one of the most surreal experiences of my life”, Hollis acknowledges.

“A gold mine”

“We collected Hollis’s blood at different times and now it is a gold mine to study different ways to attack the virus.” explica Liotta.

In most people, the antibodies made to fight the virus attack the proteins in the coronavirus spicules, spikey formations on the surface of Sars-Cov-2 that help it infect human cells.

Hollis antibodies are different: they attack various parts of the virus and kill it quickly. (Photo: Getty Images)

“The patient’s antibodies adhere to the spicules and the virus cannot stick to the cells and infect them”, indicates Liotta.

The problem is that when a person comes into contact with the virus for the first time, it takes time for their body to produce these specific antibodies, allowing the virus to spread.

But Hollis’s antibodies are different: They attack various parts of the virus and kill it quickly.

They are so powerful that Hollis is immune to even newer variants of the coronavirus.

“You could dilute his antibodies one in a thousand and would still kill 99% ofl virus”, asevera Liotta.

Scientists are studying these superantibodies from Hollis and some other patients like him in hopes of learning how to improve vaccines against the disease.

“I know that I am not the only person who has antibodies of this type, I’m just one of the few people who have been discovered ”, says Hollis.

The black population is unlikely to participate in scandal studies such as the one in Tuskegee, an investigation into syphilis in black patients who had them without treatment for decades even though the remedy existed. (Photo: BBC)

Racial biases in investigations

Nevertheless, Sometimes these kinds of discoveries do not happen because of a racial bias in scientific research: most are made with white patients.

Black individuals’ participation in studies is often much lower than their representation in society.

“There is a long history of exploitation (of black patients) that makes the African American community distrustful when it comes to participating in research,” reveals Jeff Kahn, professor at the John Hopkins University Bioethics Institute.

“It is understandable that there is such mistrust,” he acknowledges.

One of the best-known experiments involving African Americans is the Tuskegee Syphilis Study: For more than 40 years, scientists funded by the US government studied black men with syphilis in Alabama without providing drugs for the disease.

“Over the years, during the development of the study, antibiotics became a widely available remedy and were not offered to these people,” reports.

“The investigators lied about what was done to them and they were denied treatment in the name of the investigation “, Kahn sentence.

“When the Tuskegee study came to light, standards and regulations were established for human research, which have been in effect since the 1970s.”

This history is one of the reasons why a segment of the population, which has been severely affected by the pandemic, is often reluctant to participate in studies or to be vaccinated.

Black population
The black population is being greatly affected by the coronavirus and it is necessary to ensure that they receive “the benefits of the innovations that are being developed”, consider the experts. (Photo: Getty Images)

“We want to make sure that the most affected communities receive the benefits of the innovations that are being developed”, Kahn states.

“And for this, those populations they must also be part of the studies “.

“We must honor those people, the victims of the Tuskegee study, by initiating a process to make sure that doesn’t happen again. And also to save lives, especially in the African-American community, which has been greatly affected by the pandemic ”, Hollis holds.

“Protecting each other is a duty to ourselves and to the people we love”, ditch the writer.

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