Could mRNA become a ‘universal’ Covid-19 treatment? 

Lipid nanoparticle mRNA vaccine entering a human cell

New research suggests messenger RNA can be effectively used as a ‘universal’ therapy against different coronaviruses. 

A scientist at Oregon State University has demonstrated in a mouse model that it’s possible to prompt the production of a protein that can block multiple variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus from entering cells and causing respiratory disease. 

“Rather than messenger RNA as a vaccine, this shows that mRNA can be used as a universal therapy against different coronaviruses,” said Gaurav Sahay, OSU and the Texas Biomedical Research Institute. “Despite mass vaccination, there is an urgent need to develop effective treatment options to end this pandemic.” 

The findings were published in Advanced Science. Using messenger RNA packaged in lipid nanoparticles, the researchers showed that host cells produce a ‘decoy’ enzyme (hACE2) that binds to coronavirus spike proteins. This prevents the virus from latching onto cells in the host’s airway. 

“The soluble enzyme effectively inhibited live SARS-CoV-2 from infecting host cells,” said OSU postdoctoral researcher Jeonghwan Kim. “The synthesis of mRNA is fast, affordable and scalable, and LNP-delivered mRNA can be repeated as necessary to sustain protein production until the infection subsides. Once treatment stops, the no-longer-needed soluble hACE2 clears the system in a matter of days.”

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