In a new study from the University of Arizona, researchers found that a combination of bacterial extracts used in Europe to treat respiratory infections may offer a new way to prevent or reduce infection by SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
They showed that a specific combination of bacterial extracts known as OM-85 inhibited SARS-CoV-2 infection by reducing the virus’s ability to attach to lung cells.
OM-85 is a bacterial lysate, a combination of molecules extracted from the cell walls of bacteria, marketed outside the U.S. under the brand name Broncho-Vaxom as a preventive treatment for respiratory infections in children and adults.
When SARS-CoV-2 enters the lungs, it binds to receptors including the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 receptor, known as ACE2, on the outer membranes of lung cells.
A cellular enzyme changes the shape of a protein on the virus to enable SARS-CoV-2 to breach the membrane and infect the cell.
In the study, the team examined whether OM-85 treatment affected the ACE2 receptor and enzyme involved in COVID-19.
They found that pre-treatment of cells with OM-85 prevented infection by SARS-CoV-2.
The ability of OM-85 to prevent viral infection was found to be dependent on its ability to decrease the expression of the ACE2 receptor.
The mechanism by which OM-85 prevents viral infection is unlike that of vaccines or antibody treatments, which focus on a viral protein.
By targeting the receptor, OM-85 may shut the very door that allows the coronavirus to infect cells.
The team says the innate immune system has evolved under environmental pressures like bacteria, but our current lifestyles often don’t give us the chance to develop this protective immunity.
Their idea is to use bacterial lysate to train our immune system to protect us from viruses, in the same way, those who are regularly exposed to farm animals are protected against a multitude of bacteria and other microbes.
According to Vercelli, treatment with bacterial lysates such as OM-85 could promote a more interactive exchange between the immune system and microbes.
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The study is published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. One author of the study is Dr. Donata Vercelli.
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