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Pitt develops new COVID-19 nanobody treatment

PITTSBURGH — A team of scientists in Pittsburgh may have cracked the code to preventing COVID-19 and curing those who contract the virus.

At the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Dr. Yi Shi and his team invented a nanobodies treatment against COVID-19 that is administered through inhalation, which many patients will find easier than shots.

Shi said inhaling the treatment may work better than current COVID-19 vaccines.

“So, basically, what this technology could do is, you can have a pretty convenient method by directly inhaling the nanobodies. And because it’s directly inhaling into the lungs, where the infection happens, this is more effective than injecting into the blood,” Shi said.

The nanobodies developed for the treatment are also active against mutations of the virus, including the highly contagious delta variant, and have been tested in hamsters, Shi said.

“We don’t have direct evidence, we are still collecting data, but based on our analysis it looks like at least two type of nanobodies remain highly effective against the delta variant,” Shi said. He added that studies found reductions of a million fold in particles found in animals’ lungs post COVID-19 infection, which he called “very encouraging.”

Recently Shi’s team worked with scientists at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, using their powerful microscopes to see how the nanobodies work against the virus, and they discovered it works in three different ways to neutralize COVID.

“I think it’s really important ... to collaborate with people outside of Pittsburgh (who) have different scientists, different expertise to tackle this really important problem,” Shi said.

The team is continuing animal testing, but hope human clinical trials can start soon.