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The I2SysBio investigates the use of defective particles that “sabotage” the COVID-19 virus

  • Scientific Culture and Innovation Unit
  • February 3rd, 2021
Santiago Elena.

A project at the Institute for Integrative Systems Biology led by researcher Santiago Elena is developing a treatment against COVID-19 based on “defective interference particles” (DIP), fragments from the same virus, which replicate inside cells and hinder the spread of the virus to the point of being able to eliminate its ability to replicate.

The CoV2TIP project proposes an antiviral method that implies the use of the same mechanisms of viral replication, which turn against the virus at the moment that defective particles that the virus itself generates come into action and that interfere with the action of the pathogen.

The research, led by Professor Santiago Elena, is funded by the CSIC, which participates jointly with the University of Valencia, and seeks to apply this knowledge to combat the current COVID-19 epidemic.

“This is something that has been known since the middle of the twentieth century that they exist in other viruses; in influenza, polio, rabies, in all RNA viruses, including coronaviruses. Our goal, then, it is to know how many of these are defective, as soon as they accumulate in patients, and then to find out if there is an effect on the replication of the virus”, declared Santiago Elena.

First, the researcher explains, we are working on a selection and characterisation of these particles that interfere with the action of the virus, and the next phase will be the optimisation of this interference function that will give rise to the so-called therapeutic particles (TIP).

These particles, Elena explains, are fragments of genetic material that originate accidentally during the virus’s replication process, but that have the ability to replicate again. The particles compete with the “complete virus” and hinder its action to the point of preventing its spread.

The fragments can be “encapsulated” and take the shape of the virus, so they can come out and act on their own, but unlike viruses, these particles cannot replicate, for example if they enter a cell alone, so they are harmless. If these particles, however, enter together with the whole virus, they will be able to “parasitise” the virus to replicate these harmless particles at the expense of the virus.

Encapsulating, explains Santiago Elena, allows them to take on an immune function, since the body recognises these particles and activates the creation of antibodies, which turns these interfering particles into a kind of “live vaccine that can evolve”.