Covid Research

New COVID-19 variant potentially resistant to antibodies discovered at Texas A&M

The new variant is dubbed BV-1 for the Brazos Valley. valentinrussanov/Getty Images

Scientists at the Texas A&M University Global Health Complex identified a new variant of the COVID-19 virus that could present a new challenge to public health, according to a statement.

So far, the new variant, "BV-1," was found in just one case: an individual who had mild symptoms, according to the Texas A&M scientists.

"We do not at present know the full significance of this variant, but it has a combination of mutations similar to other internationally notifiable variants of concern," said GHRC chief virologist Ben Neuman. "This variant combines genetic markers separately associated with rapid spread, severe disease, and high resistance to neutralizing antibodies."

The scientists said they felt the need to share with the public because other labs have shown neutralizing antibodies are ineffective in controlling other variants with the same genetic markers as BV-1.

"We have not detected any more instances of this variant," Neuman said. "We have not grown or tested this virus in any way. This announcement is based purely on the genetic sequence analysis done in the lab."

BV-1 is related to the United Kingdom variant of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The "BV" stands for Brazos Valley, where Texas A&M and GHRC are located.

According to a release, GHRC first detected BV-1 in a saliva sample taken from a Texas A&M student as part of the university's ongoing COVID-19 testing program. The sample tested positive on March 5. It was re-tested and confirmed at a federally regulated lab at CHI St. Joseph Regional Hospital. The student lives off-campus, but is active in on-campus organizations.

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Building Houston

 
 

This UH engineer is hoping to make his mark on cancer detection. Photo via UH.edu

Early stage cancer is hard to detect, mostly because traditional diagnostic imaging cannot detect tumors smaller than a certain size. One Houston innovator is looking to change that.

Wei-Chuan Shih, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston's Cullen College of Engineering, recently published his findings in IEEE Sensors journal. According to a news release from UH, the cells around cancer tumors are small — ~30-150nm in diameter — and complex, and the precise detection of these exosome-carried biomarkers with molecular specificity has been elusive, until now.

"This work demonstrates, for the first time, that the strong synergy of arrayed radiative coupling and substrate undercut can enable high-performance biosensing in the visible light spectrum where high-quality, low-cost silicon detectors are readily available for point-of-care application," says Shih in the release. "The result is a remarkable sensitivity improvement, with a refractive index sensitivity increase from 207 nm/RIU to 578 nm/RIU."

Wei-Chuan Shih is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston's Cullen College of Engineering. Photo via UH.edu

What Shih has done is essentially restored the electric field around nanodisks, providing accessibility to an otherwise buried enhanced electric field. Nanodisks are antibody-functionalized artificial nanostructures which help capture exosomes with molecular specificity.

"We report radiatively coupled arrayed gold nanodisks on invisible substrate (AGNIS) as a label-free (no need for fluorescent labels), cost-effective, and high-performance platform for molecularly specific exosome biosensing. The AGNIS substrate has been fabricated by wafer-scale nanosphere lithography without the need for costly lithography," says Shih in the release.

This process speeds up screening of the surface proteins of exosomes for diagnostics and biomarker discovery. Current exosome profiling — which relies primarily on DNA sequencing technology, fluorescent techniques such as flow cytometry, or enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) — is labor-intensive and costly. Shih's goal is to amplify the signal by developing the label-free technique, lowering the cost and making diagnosis easier and equitable.

"By decorating the gold nanodisks surface with different antibodies (e.g., CD9, CD63, and CD81), label-free exosome profiling has shown increased expression of all three surface proteins in cancer-derived exosomes," said Shih. "The sensitivity for detecting exosomes is within 112-600 (exosomes/μL), which would be sufficient in many clinical applications."

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