In addition to Covid-19, it may also serve as a model for other seasonal viral diseases, according to Indian American researcher
An artificial intelligence-generated T-cell based vaccine may provide long-lasting immunity against future emerging variants of Covid-19, according to a study by Pennsylvania State University researchers led by Indian American professor, Girish Kirimanjeswara.
Such a vaccine may could also be used as a model for other seasonal viral diseases like the flu, according to Penn State press release.
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The current Covid-19 vaccines are designed to trigger an antibody response to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, which is vulnerable to mutations that could make the vaccine less effective over time.
Focusing on the T-cell instead, Penn State researchers partnered with Evaxion Biotech on a study that was the first to demonstrate the effectiveness of an artificial intelligence-generated vaccine in a live viral challenge model.
In their study, the researchers challenged mice with a lethal dose of SARS-CoV-2 and found that 87.5% of the mice that were vaccinated with the T-cell-based vaccine survived, while only 10% of the control-group mice survived.
Additionally, all the vaccinated mice that survived cleared the infection within 14 days post-challenge. The results were published on April 11 in Frontiers in Immunology.
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â€œTo our knowledge, this study is the first to show in vivo [in a living organism] protection against severe Covid-19 by an AI-designed T-cell vaccine,â€ said Girish Kirimanjeswara, associate professor of veterinary and biomedical sciences, Penn State.
â€œOur vaccine was extremely effective at preventing severe Covid-19 in mice, and it can be easily scaled up to start testing it in humans, as well. This research also paves the way for the potential rapid design of novel T-cell vaccines against emerging and seasonal viral diseases, like influenza.â€
Even as the mRNA vaccines that are already in use are very effective, a T-cell-based Covid-19 vaccine is needed because the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is under heavy selection pressure, which can result in mutations that drive the emergence of new variants, according to Kirimanjeswara.
â€œThis means that vaccine manufacturers will have to keep creating new vaccines that target new variants, and people have to keep getting these new vaccines,â€ he said.
Instead of targeting the constantly mutating spike protein, the team at Evaxion Biotech designed a vaccine that included 17 epitopes from various proteins of SARS-CoV-2 that are recognized by the immune system. These epitopes elicit an immune response from a broad selection of T cells, ensuring a sustained coverage of future variants.
â€œThe virus would have to undergo too many mutations to be able to escape this T-cell-mediated immunity, so that is one advantage,â€ said Kirimanjeswara. â€œThe second advantage is that T-cell-mediated immunity is usually long-lasting, so you donâ€™t need repeated booster doses.â€
If T cells are so great at remembering foreign agents, why were the first-generation Covid-19 vaccines designed to elicit responses from antibodies?
â€œIt’s harder and takes longer to produce a T-cell-based vaccine than an antibody-based one,â€ said Kirimanjeswara.
â€œGiven the urgency with which we needed a vaccine to address the Covid-19 pandemic, it makes sense that vaccine manufacturers created an antibody-based vaccine,” he said. “Now that the urgency has passed, a second-generation T-cell-based vaccine could be more effective and last longer.â€