A Seattle-based company called Moderna just recently released its Phase I results for a COVID-19 mRNA vaccine - and the results were very promising. But how does such a vaccine work?
A vaccine can be composed of disassembled virus parts, which teaches our immune systems to recognize and attack the virus. Vaccines absolutely revolutionized modern medicine, but there are some that have partial health concerns.
Now there’s a new, cutting edge approach that is safer and more cost-effective than other vaccines: the mRNA vaccine. mRNA is a copy of DNA that takes genetic instructions to be made into proteins. When injected as a vaccine, our cells use the mRNA to make the protein it codes for. Our immune systems learn to recognize the protein as an enemy part, and when the real virus enters our bodies, our defenses will be primed and ready.
The biotech company Moderna is developing the first mRNA vaccine with the viral spike protein to be used against SARS-CoV-2.
An enveloped virus uses its spike protein to attach to a protein receptor on human cells like a key to a lock, letting the virus enter and infect the cell. Once inside, it hijacks the cell’s machinery in order to reproduce.
The genome of SARS-CoV-2 is relatively straightforward. Below you can see an integral component of it - the spike protein gene - that gives the virus the ability to detect and infect human cells.
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2. Kim, D., Lee, J.-Y., Yang, J.-S., Kim, J. W., Kim, V. N., & Chang, H. (2020). The architecture of SARS-CoV-2 transcriptome. Cell. doi: 10.1101/2020.03.12.988865