Researchers from Gdańsk and Kraków come up with an idea for the COVID-19 vaccine

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Researchers from Gdańsk and Kraków have joined forces to develop an effective and safe vaccine against COVID-19. Its action will involve activating T-lymphocytes of a vaccinated person to destroy virus-infected cells. The research is financed by the Foundation for Polish Science from the EU Smart Growth Operational Programme.

Research work is conducted jointly by Dr. hab. Danuta Gutowska-Owsiak from the Inter-University Faculty of Biotechnology at the University of Gdańsk and the Medical University of Gdańsk, who specialises in human immunological system studies, and Prof. Jonathan Heddle from the Małopolskie Centre of Biotechnology of the Jagiellonian University, who is a nanobiotechnology expert.

The researchers’ idea is based on exploiting the properties of exosomes – small bubbles found in most biological body fluids, which act as inter-cellular signal “transmitters” and can change some cellular functions, e.g. stimulate immunological cells.

The researchers are planning to design and create artificial exosomes and then to test their use as a new way of inducing cellular antiviral response against SARS-CoV-2, which may contribute to developing a unique approach to a COVID-19 vaccine. “Our intent is to test this option – to generate artificial exosomes which will activate T-lymphocytes, and to test their effectiveness in the fight against SARS-CoV-2,” said Dr. hab. Danuta Gutowska-Owsiak.

“The human body can respond to viruses in a variety of ways, including through macrophage or granulocyte activation, or through interferon release. Another method is to activate certain T-lymphocyte classes which destroy virus-infected cells, thus limiting its spreading. For this reason, T-lymphocyte activation may prove an effective therapeutic strategy and protection against the infection,” added the researcher.

Prof. J.Heddle_fot.OneHD_Archiwum FNP
Prof. Jonathan Heddle, Photogr. OneHD / Archive FNP

“Many laboratories all over the world are now working on an effective vaccine against COVID-19, and some studies have already gone very far. Unfortunately, we still cannot tell how effective these formulations will be, and which of them will induce the desirable strong and long-lasting immunological response. It is, therefore, necessary to continue testing and researching into various ways and strategies of stimulating the body to fight with the virus, with the use of artificial exosomes being an example. We hope that our research outcomes will prove useful not only against the COVID-19 pandemic, but also against other pathogens that may pose threat in the future,” said Prof. Jonathan Heddle.

The researchers have received over PLN 2.6 million in total to conduct their study. Those resources, coming from the EU Smart Growth Operational Programme, were granted by the Foundation for Polish Science via a thematic competition for financing new research projects related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the overall budget of which amounted to PLN 15 million and allowed as many as 14 projects to be subsidised.

This is yet another time that the Foundation for Polish Science has awarded grants to Dr. hab. Danuta Gutowska-Owsiak and Prof. Jonathan Heddle. Dr hab. Gutowska-Owsiak previously received a grant in the FIRST TEAM Programme, and Prof. Heddle – in the TEAM Programme. Both grants allowed the researchers to build their teams and conduct high-quality research. The knowledge so acquired and their research results can now be used in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the picture: dr hab. Danuta Gutowska-Owsiak, Photogr. OneHD / Archive FNP