Japanese researchers using silkworms to create COVID-19 vaccine

A team of scientists at Kyushu University in Japan is working to develop a possible COVID-19 vaccine using silkworms, the Nikkei Asian Review reported. The vaccine is scheduled to be tested on humans in 2021.

The researchers, led by Professor Takahiro Kusakabe at Kyushu University in Fukuoka, are utilising the silkworms like factories. Each worm produces a protein which will become the key substance in a possible vaccine. “We have about 250,000 silkworms in about 500 different phylogenies (family lines),” Kusakabe was reported as saying. From the thousands of insects in the lab, “we have found a type of silkworm that can efficiently manufacture the proteins.”

The project sees genes of the protein that forms the outer “spikes” of the coronavirus incorporated into the virus, which is then injected into a silkworm. After about four days, spike proteins that can serve as vaccine material start to be produced in large quantities by the silkworms, the report explained. Once this has happened, these proteins are removed and refined and can be made into a vaccine.

Producing spike proteins using silkworms is believed to be a safer method than using an ‘attenuated vaccines’, in which a weakened form of the virus is introduced into the human body.

Kusakabe plans to inject the spike proteins into mice first to see if this creates antibodies to block the coronavirus infection. He will then check if the antibodies can actually block the virus’s intrusion into cells. Animal testing is scheduled to be completed by early 2021, after which clinical testing on humans will begin.

“Using silkworms, you can shorten the time it takes to produce candidate substances for the vaccine to as little as about 40 days,” Kusakabe was quoted as saying.

The cost of producing the vaccine will also be lower as the silkworm method does not require large equipment.

Source: Nikkei Asian Review


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