Wei Li of the University of Pittsburgh sifted through antibody components and found multiple therapeutic antibody candidates in record time. (Photo courtesy of the University of Pittsburgh)

Pittsburgh Universities Post New COVID-19 Discoveries

Two renowned Pittsburgh universities last week announced major developments in their research on the coronavirus.

Scientists from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have isolated an antibody that could lead to a very effective drug that treats or may even prevent COVID-19.

The antibody is microscopic even by micro standards—10 times smaller than a full-sized antibody. It is the smallest biological molecule to date to build a drug known as Ab8 (abate) to combat the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19

“Ab8 not only has potential as therapy for COVID-19, but it also could be used to keep people from getting SARS-CoV-2 infections,” said John Mellors, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Pitt and UPMC, in a university press release.

“Antibodies of larger size have worked against other infectious diseases and have been well tolerated, giving us hope that it could be an effective treatment for patients with COVID-19 and for protection of those who have never had the infection and are not immune.”

Mellors and Xianglei Liu of Pitt were co-lead authors of an article published in the journal “Cell.”

Meanwhile, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University—just a short walk down Forbes Avenue from Pitt—announced the development of the one of the fastest known COVID-19 antibody tests, which can produce highly accurate results in 10 to 15 seconds.

The device, which requires a drop of blood through a finger prick, is about the size of a quarter and is manufactured using aerosol jet 3D printing. The cost of production is inexpensive, according to a CMU release.

The speed of the test, combined with its low cost and ability to detect other viruses, has the potential to change the way health emergencies are handled in the future.

“This sensing platform can also be used to detect other infectious diseases, potentially affecting the course of pandemics,” said Rahul Panat, associate professor of Mechanical Engineering at CMU,  who collaborated with Shou-Jian Gao of the Cancer Virology Program at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.

The lead author of the study was Azahar Ali, a postdoctoral researcher in Panat’s Advanced Manufacturing and Materials Lab.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is a global challenge facing humanity, but biomedical science and human ingenuity are likely to overcome it,” said Mellors in Pitt’s release. “We hope that the antibodies we have discovered will contribute to that triumph.”

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