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Blocking a protein that enables the virus to turn the immune system against healthy cells, has been identified in a recent study. Pixabay

As the world waits eagerly for an effective vaccine against the COVID-19 virus, researchers are also focusing on a better understanding of how the virus attacks the body in the quest for other means of stopping its devastating impact.

The key to one possibility — blocking a protein that enables the virus to turn the immune system against healthy cells — has been identified in a recent study by a team of Johns Hopkins University researchers.


Based on their findings published in the journal ‘Blood’, the researchers believe that inhibiting the protein known as Factor D will also curtail the potentially deadly inflammatory reactions that many patients have to the virus.

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Scientists already know that spike proteins on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus — making the pathogen look like the spiny ball from a medieval mace — are the means by which it attaches to cells targeted for infection.

To do this the spikes first grab hold of heparan sulfate, a large, complex sugar molecule found on the surface of cells in the lungs, blood vessels, and smooth muscle making up most organs.

Facilitated by its initial binding with heparan sulfate, SARS-CoV-2 then uses another cell-surface component, the protein known as angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), as its doorway into the attacked cell. The Johns Hopkins medicine team discovered that when SARS-CoV-2 ties up heparan sulfate, it prevents Factor H from using the sugar molecule to bind with cells.


The research team used normal human blood serum and three sub-units of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein to discover exactly how the virus activates the APC, hijacks the immune system. Unsplash

Factor H’s normal function is to regulate the chemical signals that trigger inflammation and keep the immune system from harming healthy cells. Without this protection, cells in the lungs, heart, kidneys, and other organs can be destroyed by the defense mechanism nature intended to safeguard them.

“Previous research has suggested that with tying up heparan sulfate, SARS-CoV-2 activates a cascading series of biological reactions — what we call the alternative pathway of complement or APC — that can lead to inflammation and cell destruction if misdirected by the immune system at healthy organs,” said the study’s senior author Robert Brodsky.

The APC is one of the three chain reaction processes involving the splitting and combining of more than 20 different proteins — known as complement proteins — that usually gets activated when bacteria or viruses invade the body.

In a series of experiments, the research team used normal human blood serum and three sub-units of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein to discover exactly how the virus activates the APC, hijacks the immune system, and endangers normal cells.

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They discovered that two of the sub-units called S1 and S2 are the components that bind the virus to heparan sulfate — setting off the APC cascade and blocking Factor H from connecting with sugar — and in turn disabling the complement regulation by which Factor H deters a misdirected immune response.

“We found that by blocking another complement protein known as Factor D which works immediately upstream in the pathway from Factor H, they were able to stop the destructive chain of events triggered by SARS-CoV-2,” the authors wrote. (IANS)


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The aim of the book is to teach children that families can exist in different forms, and show them how to accept the diversity in family backgrounds.

By Siddhi Jain

Delhi-based author Pritisha Borthakur is set to release her new book, 'Puhor and Niyor's Mural of Family Stories'. The 1,404-word children's book was put together to address a new kind of societal debacle in the family system. The author says the aim is to teach children that families can exist in different forms, and show them how to accept the diversity in family backgrounds.

The author who named the book after her twin sons -- Puhor and Niyor -- is a parent who has seen and heard the tales of ridicule and discrimination suffered by many in India and beyond. She says the book is an artistic illustration for kids that details how different families can live and coexist. Whether it's children with two dads or two moms, children with a single dad or single mom, and even multiracial family units, Borthakur's book teaches love, understanding, and compassion towards unconventional families.

Beyond race, gender, color, and ethnicity which have formed the bases for discrimination since the beginning of time, this book aims to bring to light a largely ignored issue. For so long, single parents have been treated like a taboo without any attempt to understand their situations; no one really cares how or why one's marriage ended but just wants to treat single parents as villains simply for choosing happiness and loving their children.

Homosexual parents, a relatively new family system, is another form that has suffered hate and discrimination for many years. Pritisha emphasizes the need to understand that diversity in people and family is what makes the world beautiful and colourful. 'Puhor and Niyor's Mural of Family Stories' is a firm but compassionate statement against all forms of discrimination on the bases of sexual identity, gender, race, and even differences in background

four children standing on dirt during daytime 'Puhor and Niyor's Mural of Family Stories' is a firm but compassionate statement against all forms of discrimination on the bases of sexual identity, gender, race and even differences in background. | Photo by Ben Wicks on Unsplash


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