Scientists are looking for a coronavirus cure as more than 800,000 people have contracted COVID-19 since November. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are at the forefront of the fight, developing new experimental treatments to tackle the crisis.
A team of MIT chemists is testing a protein fragment that could potentially inhibit the ability of coronavirus to attack the lungs.
The chemists have used the short protein, or peptide, to synthesise a drug candidate.
Brad Pentelute, an MIT associate professor, said: “We have a lead compound that we really want to explore because it does, in fact, interact with a viral protein in the way that we predicted it to interact, so it has a chance of inhibiting viral entry into a host cell.”
The research, which is yet to be peer-reviewed, was published on the preprint server bioRxiv.
The coronavirus sweeping across the globe belongs to a family of zoonotic pathogens that infect both animals and humans.
The new virus has been dubbed SARS-CoV-2 because of its similarities to the SARS coronavirus from 2002 to 2003.
The pathogen attacks the respiratory system with flu-like symptoms that can develop into pneumonia.
Patients often suffer from sustained, dry cough and fever.
In more severe cases, patients will experience breathing difficulties and severe acute respiratory syndrome.
Unfortunately, there is no treatment or cure for the new coronavirus strain.
These proteins bind to a receptor found on human cells, called angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2).
The receptor acts as an entry point for the virus and has been responsible for the 2002 SARS epidemic.
Genwei Zhang, a postdoctoral researcher at Professor Pentelute’s lab ran simulations to determine how the CE2 receptor interacts with the coronavirus.
He said: “This kind of simulation can give us views of how atoms and biomolecules interact with each other, and which parts are essential for this interaction.
“Molecular dynamics helps us narrow down particular regions that we want to focus on to develop therapeutics.”
Professor Pentelute added: “We have confidence that we know exactly where this molecule is interacting, and we can use that information to further guide refinement so that we can hopefully get a higher affinity and more potency to block viral entry in cells.”
The coronavirus first appeared in China’s Hubei Province last November.
The virus is believed to have originated from an animal source but scientists are yet to confirm the theory.