DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — A team of scientists at Duke is studying a new way to treat and prevent COVID-19 no matter how the virus mutates.
Dr. Qianben Wang and his team are working on a new way to prevent and treat COVID using what’s called CRISPR technology. He says the method temporarily acts on mRNA to decrease an enzyme in the lungs that allows the coronavirus to enter and infect cells.
“This is just to prevent the virus to enter the cell,” he explained.
It is not designed to offer long-term protection, but rather to be effective for a few days.
Dr. Wang, a professor of pathology at the Duke School of Medicine, says the technology shows promise in mice. If it ultimately proves to be effective in people, he says it could potentially be used to reduce risk before a trip or large gathering.
“You can do that before you attend the party or begin travel or after the travel,” he said.
Wang said it also shows promise in preventing or treating illness after exposure to COVID-19.
During testing in mice, the treatment was delivered by IV, but Dr. Wang hopes to modify it to deliver it through an inhaler.
Because of the way it works, he says it should remain effective, even if the virus mutates, and it should work against multiple types of coronavirus.
Scientists must show the treatment is safe and effective in additional animal studies before it can be tested in humans, but if it ultimately proves to be safe and effective in people, Dr. Wang says it could help people who are immune-compromised and don’t respond well to vaccines, or it could add an extra layer of protection for people who are already vaccinated.
He emphasized that while some forms of CRISPR technology are used to alter DNA, this is different because it works on mRNA, it only acts on a specific target, and the effects are temporary.