Researchers isolated a protein designated, designated as "Nsp15," from the severe acute respiratory syndrome - SARS - outbreak of 2003 that could be useful in testing for vaccines intended to prevent or reduce the threat of coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. The protein found in coronavirus is 89% identical to a protein discovered in SARS, suggesting that drugs developed to treat that disease could work for the current outbreak plaguing countries around the world.
Scientists conducted genomic mapping of the SARS pathogen using 3D visualization and said further unraveling the Nsp15 composition should offer clues as to what immunological tools might work best in halting the coronavirus strain.
"While the SARS-CoV-19 virus is very similar to the SARS virus that caused epidemics in 2003, new structures shed light on the small, but potentially important differences between the two viruses that contribute to the different patterns in the spread and severity of the diseases they cause," Researcher Adam Godzik said in a news release from the university.
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The process remains in the early stages, with mapping of other proteins still underway, according to the researchers.
"We solved the structure in about two month. For SARS, it took about two years for instance to solve the first structure. It's much much faster. But still, it's not fast enough to make any real difference," Godzik said in a video interview.
The research was a combined project of the UC Riverside Biomedical Sciences lab, the University of Chicago, Northwestern University and the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory.
Tensions over how to contain the fast-spreading coronavirus escalated Tuesday in the United States as the death toll climbed to nine and lawmakers expressed doubts about the government's ability to ramp up testing fast enough to deal with the crisis.
Worldwide, more than 92,000 people have been sickened and 3,100 have died, the vast majority of them in China.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.