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      mRNA technology for vaccines and more: An Ars Frontiers recap

      news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Tuesday, 30 May, 2023 - 22:55 · 1 minute

    Ars' John Timmer (left) with Karin Bok (center) and Nathaniel Wang (right).

    Enlarge / On May 22, John Timmer (left) moderated a panel featuring Karin Bok (center) and Nathaniel Wang (right) for the Ars Frontiers 2023 session titled, "Beyond COVID: What Does mRNA Technology Mean for Disease Treatment?" (credit: Ars Technica)

    The world of biomedicine has developed a lot of technology that seems a small step removed from science fiction, but the public isn't aware of much of it. mRNA-based vaccines, though, were a big exception as a lot of the public tracked the technology's development as a key step toward emerging from the worst of the pandemic and then received the vaccines in droves.

    mRNA technology has a lot of potential applications beyond COVID, and we talked a bit about those during the "Beyond COVID: What Does mRNA Technology Mean for Disease Treatment?" panel at last week's Ars Frontiers event. We've archived the panel on YouTube; if you want to focus on the discussion about mRNA therapies, you can start at the 1-hour, 55-minute mark .

    mRNA is a nucleic acid molecule that instructs the cell to make specific proteins. When used as vaccines, the instructions call for a protein produced by a pathogen, such as a virus. "It helps put up a wanted poster for the immune system," was how Nathaniel Wang, co-founder and CEO of Replicate Bioscience put it.

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      A mildly insane idea for disabling the coronavirus

      John Timmer · news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Saturday, 28 November, 2020 - 17:06 · 1 minute

    Colorful blobs cluster together like a bunch of grapes.

    Enlarge / Diagram of the structure of the virus' spike protein. (credit: McLellan Lab, University of Texas at Austin )

    When the COVID-19 pandemic was first recognized for the threat that it is, researchers scrambled to find anything that might block the virus' spread. While vaccines have grabbed much of the attention lately, there was also the hope that we could develop a therapy that would block the worst effects of the virus. Most of these have been extremely practical: identify enzymes that are essential for the virus to replicate, and test drugs that block similar enzymes from other viruses. These drugs are designed to be relatively easy to store and administer and, in some cases, have already been tested for safety in humans, making them reasonable choices for getting something ready for use quickly.

    But the tools we've developed in biotechnology allow us to do some far less practical things, and a paper released today describes how they can be put to use to inactivate SARS-CoV-2. This is in no way a route to a practical therapy, but it does provide a fantastic window into what we can accomplish by manipulating biology.

    Throw it in the trash

    The whole effort described in the new paper is focused on a simple idea: if you figure out how to wreck one of the virus' key proteins, it won't be able to infect anything. And, conveniently, our cells have a system for destroying proteins, since that's often a useful thing to do. In some cases, the proteins that are destroyed are damaged; in others, the proteins are made and destroyed at elevated paces to allow the cell to respond to changing conditions rapidly. In a few cases, changes in the environment or the activation of signaling pathways can trigger widespread protein destruction, allowing the cell to quickly alter its behavior.

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