COVID-19 is currently the top story worldwide. Other events of the new year seemingly pale in comparison to how this evolving health crisis – now upgraded to a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) – continues to unapologetically consume our daily lives.
So, in this spirit, we exchanged germ-free elbow bumps upon learning that one of our researchers, John Schoggins, Ph.D., made an exciting medical discovery in early March. An associate professor of microbiology at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, Dr. Schoggins and his international collaborators (Charles Rice, Ph.D., at The Rockefeller University in New York and Volker Thiel, Ph.D., at University of Bern in Switzerland) are credited with identifying LY6E, a naturally occurring protein that has been shown to inhibit coronavirus infection. Their findings are detailed in a pre-print article, entitled “LY6E Impairs Coronavirus Fusion and Confers Immune Control of Viral Disease.”
“My lab has a longstanding history researching how cells defend themselves from viral infection. This particular protein, LY6E, demonstrates the ability to block the COVID-19 virus and other coronaviruses like SARS and MERS from fusing to the cells, thus significantly reducing the probability of infection when tested in vitro [outside living organism]. It also helps the immune system control coronavirus disease in vivo [within living organism],” explained Dr. Schoggins to the Lung Association.
Dr. Schoggins received the Lung Association’s Innovation Award in 2019-2020, which aims to match the brightest minds with the best science, in support and recognition of his pioneering project, “New Avenue for Keeping Influenza in Check.” Through this project, which set out to investigate how macrophages [large white blood cells] affect the influenza virus, the team ultimately landed on LY6E and determined it plays a key role in the primary immune response defending against coronavirus. Quite an opportune outcome during an ongoing global race to curb the fast-paced spread of COVID-19.
Now that LY6E has been detected and examined, they plan to expand their inquiry to see whether it can be translated into treatment options. “We’re thinking about ways to mimic LY6E in the hopes of developing a complementary small molecule or peptide drug target, along the lines of a fusion inhibitor,” Dr. Schoggins added. “The team is appreciative of organizations such as the American Lung Association for taking chances on cutting-edge research such as ours.”
We’ll keep you updated on next steps of Dr. Schoggins’ study, but in the meantime, we’re proud that our Research Team is hard at work on timely and impactful research! Continue to follow the American Lung Association on the social platform of your choice for all your lung health and respiratory news.