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Nobel prize winner Bruce Beutler, the American immunologist and geneticist at this year’s Medical Science Festival in Bologna, said: “It will not be the last pandemic with the characteristics we are experiencing now, humanity will be hit again with the same violence and, who knows, maybe even more. We must, therefore, treasure what we are learning, SARS-CoV-2 was the alarm bell necessary to put us in line in the face of the next major zoonoses.” Mr Beutler said his predictions were not a prophecy, but a warning.
The scientist gained recognition on his work on innate immune function.
“Innate immunity” is the first line of defence, present since birth against pathogens.
“Innate immunity” has no memory and is not selective towards pathogens, unlike “acquired immunity”.
“Acquired immunity” is triggered after the body is attacked by new viruses.
The body then creates specific antibodies to deal with new pathogens.
Mr Beutler explains the need to study both “innate immunity” and “acquired immunity” in the fight against coronavirus.
He said: “Innate immunity if enhanced are immediately ready and violent, but then we would have to go through the process all over again.
“The innate immune system, in fact, has no memory of the pathogens and at the moment of a new contact with the same virus we would become ill again.
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“Vaccines, on the other hand, do not work on innate immunity, but on acquired immunity, represented by T and B lymphocytes, which stimulate the production of antibodies.”
Mr Beutler added: “To win the battle against Sars-CoV-19 we must focus on the study of acquired immunity, which is specific and selective, so as to design 100 percent safe vaccines.”
However, when asked why the development of coronavirus vaccines is moving slowly he said that it is a “sneaky virus”.
He said: “Sars-CoV-2 is a sneaky virus, but if we find the correct vaccine, then we will curb mortality more effectively, not to mention that we would not put pressure on ICUs as it has already happened.”
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Mr Beutler did warn, however, of how the virus could become “elusive” to a vaccine through mutation.
He said: “Being an Rna virus, it has a weak ‘proofreader’ activity.
“Every time it replicates it makes mistakes and it’s unable to repair them as effectively as DNA cells.
“These errors are mutations and are an advantage for the virus because, if they are not lethal and are maintained, they make the virus itself continuously different and, consequently, elusive to the vaccine.
“It is necessary because other zoonoses like this current one will continually recur and we cannot count on therapies.
“The peculiarities of SARS-CoV-2 have given us an epochal dilemma, what would the world have been like if this virus had been much more lethal, with a mortality rate of 50 percent across all age groups?
“We will have to learn all we can from this pandemic and how we will overcome it.”
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