PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Could a nasal spray prevent infection with coronavirus?

In a collaboration between the University of Louisville, the University of Pittsburgh and Magee Women’s Research Institute, researchers are working on the possibility.

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The active ingredient is a protein called Q-Griffithsin. It’s extracted from tobacco plants and algae. It can attach to coronavirus, so the virus can’t infect healthy cells.

In lab tests with lung tissue, the protein kept the novel coronavirus from making copies of itself, “which indicates to us that it has good potential to be used as a topical anti-viral,” says Kenneth Palmer, PhD, director Center for Predictive Medicine for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases at the University of Louisville.

It was originally developed to potentially prevent other infections.

“Most of our activity for the last 10 years have been towards developing this product for anti-HIV activity, but we have dabbled in other viruses,” says Dr. Palmer.

In animal studies, Q-griffithsin worked against Ebola, hepatitis, MERS, SARS and other viruses.

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A nasal spray would meet coronavirus where it enters the body – the nose and mouth.

It could be used by health care workers, and emergency personnel or in people who wouldn’t respond well to vaccines.

The researchers have a prototype.

“Our goal is to do a clinical trial in the fall. I think that’s achievable,” he says.

This would be a randomized, placebo-controlled trial of 45 people.

“I don’t think I would rule out volunteers who have recovered from infection. Because we don’t yet know whether the recovery from infection protects you from being infected again,” Dr. Palmer adds.

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The first goal is to make sure the spray is safe and well-tolerated. But the researchers will also check the volunteers to see if the spray prevents the virus from copying itself inside cells.