Scientists develop MERS strain for potential vaccine
Scientists have developed a strain of the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) that could be used to develop a vaccine against the deadly pathogen.
The team, from the Autonomous University of Madrid ("la Autónoma") in Spain, engineered the lab strain, called rMERS-CoV-[delta]E, to have a mutation in its envelope protein that allows it to infect a limited number of cells and replicate itself but not spread into surrounding tissue and cause disease. This is an important feature for a vaccine, because vaccines need enough live virus to provoke an immune response and produce antibodies, but not so much that it overwhelms the body to cause illness.
According to the World Health Organization, the virus has infected 114 and killed 54 people since September 2012. Even though the virus has not infected many people to date, scientists are very concerned because if the virus mutates into a form that spreads easily among humans, it could lead to a widespread epidemic.
While conducting their research, the team at la Autónoma found that mutations in the envelope protein (E protein) of the virus enabled it to replicate its genetic material but not infect neighboring cells.While the research provides a good start in its finding of one safeguard with E protein, the FDA requires that live vaccines have at least three safeguards to ensure they do not revert to dangerous forms.