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ASU scientists working on creating a coronavirus vaccine

Posted at 3:11 PM, Feb 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-26 15:23:20-05

TEMPE, AZ — Inside the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University, scientists are taking three very different routes to come up with a vaccine for the coronavirus. From the healing power of plants, to past viruses like smallpox, it’s a laborious search for an answer.

Tackling a complex problem like creating a vaccine for the coronavirus begins with thinking outside the box.

"It's really important to take multiple strategies when you're going after vaccine development because you don't know what will work," said Doctor Brenda Hogue.

Hogue, Dr. Bert Jacobs, and Qiang Chen are doing just that. Dr. Jacobs is working on a solution through his work with the smallpox vaccine, known as Vaccinia.

"We've got 200 years, over 200 years experience using Vaccinia virus as a vaccine," said Dr Jacobs.

Jacobs says the Vaccinia virus can easily be genetically modified to include parts of the coronavirus and used as a delivery system with hopes of developing an immunity when injected into mice.

"We'll get an immune response to the Vaccinia virus, do we also get a response to the coronavirus, and will that protect animals from the coronavirus and eventually would it protect people?" said Jacobs.

"In order to trigger immune responses, we need some foreign matters to get into our body," said Professor Qiang Chen.

Professor Chen is using tobacco plant cells to create virus shells that can be used to create an immune response as well. He says using plants can increase the vaccine’s effectiveness.

"More immunogenic, produce more immune responses which could be more protective," said Chen.

It's also more cost-effective and can be scaled faster if they have success.

Hogue's strategy leans on creating "virus-like particles." Empty shells of the virus but without the infection. She's using mammal cells to create those particles.

"We know what the major components are that we need to include to get a good antigenic response that will give us an effective vaccine," said Hogue.

She'll work to inject those shells into mice to train their immune system to attack the coronavirus.

They all believe the work will eventually pay off.

"I am confident that a good vaccine will be developed," said Hogue.