San Antonio

The COVID-19 research done in San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO – Since March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has altered practically each side of our lives. The shutdowns, the job losses, the tens of millions of deaths globally – it’s troublesome to place into phrases simply how a lot has been ceaselessly modified and the way a lot so many have lost.

But by all of it, science has offered hope. And a giant a part of that research occurred in our yard at Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio.

In this episode of KSAT Explains, we’re listening to immediately from among the native scientists behind essential COVID-19 research that’s been done throughout this pandemic. They stroll us by how the pandemic affected their work, the unimaginable scientific breakthroughs we’ve witnessed and the way these breakthroughs might assist us battle future viruses and illnesses.

(Watch the complete episode on-demand in the video participant above.)

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‘We were really heading for something very, very worrying’: How Texas Biomed responded to the pandemic

Many of the scientists we talked to at Texas Biomed weren’t shocked on the emergence of a pandemic. As they instructed us, lots of people who work with infectious illnesses are conscious of the chance of a pandemic. But, identical to the remainder of us, the severity of the menace wasn’t instantly clear.

“Then it became apparent that it was going to be massive and have a major impact on research, on people’s daily lives, on the economy,” mentioned Dr. Joanne Turner, Texas Biomed’s vice chairman of research, and a scientist with an lively research program in tuberculosis. “We were really heading for something very, very worrying.”

Dr. Joanne Turner is Texas Biomed’s vice chairman of research, and a scientist with an lively research program in tuberculosis. (Copyright 2021 by KSAT – All rights reserved.)

Researchers at Texas Biomed have been pressured to change gears.

“From a research perspective, all targeting and all focus went to COVID research, and rightfully so,” mentioned Dr. Corinna Ross, the affiliate director of research at Southwest National Primate Research Center.


As cities throughout the globe have been shutting down, there was a rising sense of urgency felt throughout the scientific world.

Dr. Larry Schlesinger, president and CEO of Texas Biomed, instructed us that the institute was one of many few locations really ready for the pandemic, thanks in half to a strategic plan that was adopted in 2018. Part of that plan included reconstructing the non-public, not-for-profit institute to work on infectious illness prevention.

According to Schlesinger, as soon as the group realized how critical the menace posed by the novel coronavirus, they put the appropriate scientists in the room to do their finest to make a distinction and contribute to medical research primarily based on their experience and resources.

Dr. Larry Schlesinger is president and CEO of Texas Biomed. (Copyright 2021 by KSAT – All rights reserved.)

Texas Biomed’s experience in biomedical research dates back 80 years. The institute has had a hand in engaged on medical research for many years, together with the primary Ebola therapy, and the primary therapy for Hepatitis C.


“We have the ability to handle research and development related to any infectious diseases because we have tremendous history and experience related to what is called biocontainment research,” mentioned Schlesinger.

Biocontainment research is done in biosafety labs, that are designed to permit scientists to review viruses and different pathogenic organisms with out releasing these viruses into the general public, or infecting researchers. These labs are ranked from biosafety degree one by 4, or BSL1 by BSL4, relying on the hazard of the pathogens being studied at every degree.

Biocontainment research is done in biosafety labs, that are designed to permit scientists to review viruses and different pathogenic organisms with out releasing these viruses into the general public, or infecting researchers. (Copyright 2021 by KSAT – All rights reserved.)

Another useful resource Texas Biomed has on its 200-acre campus: the flexibility to check on animals. The institute is house to greater than 2,500 nonhuman primates, and about 5,000 rodents.

The scientists we talked to instructed us that it didn’t take lengthy for them to understand they would want to develop animal fashions to check COVID therapies and potential vaccines. But to try this, they wanted money. According to Schlesinger, they have been capable of increase $5 million inside a few weeks.


“This is unprecedented,” he mentioned. “So, we had the expertise, we had the animals, and we had the resources now.”

‘Animal research was instrumental’: The research that preceded human scientific trials

From there, research started. Scientists at Texas Biomedical Research Institute joined in the worldwide effort to sort out COVID-19.

To discover a remedy, therapy or vaccine for a virus, scientists first have to know how that virus works: what does it do? How does it replicate? What occurs when it infects a bunch?

So, the very first step was to get the virus.

“Then we had to amplify, which essentially means growing up the virus in a way that we didn’t change what happened to the virus,” mentioned Dr. Ricardo Carrion, Jr., the director of most containment contract research and a professor at Texas Biomed.

Carrion was employed on the institute after receiving his Ph.D. in 2003. Much of his work is done in the BSL4 lab, and entails creating new packages to research hemorrhagic fever viruses, like Ebola.


Dr. Ricardo Carrion, Jr. is the director of most containment contract research and a professor at Texas Biomed. (Copyright 2021 by KSAT – All rights reserved.)

Of course, extra lately, a lot of his work has been done at BSL3 labs, which is the place all COVID research is done.

“We looked at how it [SARS-CoV-2] behaved in tissue culture, and we were able to determine that what we propagated was sufficient enough to put into animal models at that point,” Carrion mentioned.

Developing animal fashions simply means researchers discovered a protocol in which they might, in a managed trend inside a BSL3 lab, try to infect the animal with the virus.

“When we first encountered this new virus, we didn’t know which animal model we could use,” Turner mentioned. “We didn’t know whether it would infect non-human primates or rodents or another species.”

Once scientists decided rodents and non-human primates could possibly be contaminated with SARS-CoV-2, they have been capable of take a look at therapies and vaccines.

Schlesinger instructed us that’s across the time that Pfizer approached Texas Biomed wanting to check their mRNA vaccine utilizing animal fashions. At this level, research had already been done in tissue tradition dishes, so animal fashions have been the subsequent step.


“Human trials are really good,” Turner mentioned. “But before the human trials, you have to make sure [you have] something safe and effective in animals, so that we know it’s going to be safe when we put it into humans.”

The knowledge collected from the animal research was used to assist show that the vaccines have been secure sufficient for use in human scientific trials. By December 11, 2020, the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was authorized for emergency use in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration. Moderna obtained that very same authorization every week later.

“Animal research, and particularly non-human primate research, was instrumental in the licensure of the two approved [mRNA] vaccines,” mentioned Dr. Deepak Kaushal, director of Southwest National Primate Research Center.


The animal fashions created by Texas Biomed have been additionally used to check Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody drug therapy, which was used to treat former President Donald Trump when he contracted the virus final year.

‘We may not be so fortunate next time’: Lessons discovered for the subsequent pandemic

The aim for all of us since March 2020 has been to get by this pandemic. But the top of headlines dominated by COVID-19 doesn’t imply we’re done with pandemics. In truth, each scientist we talked to for this episode is already serious about the subsequent one.

And the chance that it will likely be more difficult to sort out.

“The key is, we may not be so fortunate next time,” Schlesinger mentioned. “Next time we may have an outbreak of a fever and we don’t know what it is.”

Fortunate might appear to be an odd phrase to make use of with regards to COVID, however in line with researchers, that’s precisely what we’re. Fortunate they already had familiarity with coronaviruses. Fortunate that the mRNA know-how existed and money was made accessible to develop vaccines that work.


“I think this [mRNA] is a really effective and relatively easy to manufacture safe platform for vaccines for the future,” Schlesinger mentioned. “So I think it’s a game-changer.”

How the subsequent vaccine is formulated to struggle the subsequent virus that’s found is an unknown. According to Schlesinger, 15 to twenty new viruses are uncovered worldwide every year.

While COVID is not new, we’re nonetheless studying about it. Researchers are nonetheless attempting to answer questions: why are there so-called COVID long-haulers, the individuals who dwell with signs months after being contaminated. Why do some fare much better with COVID than others?

Learning extra concerning the immune system might be key.

“We expect that infectious diseases in the next 30 years will become the most prevalent form of human ailment,” Kaushal mentioned.

Another problem the researchers we talked to hope to work on is probably not the results of any scientific trial. They’d wish to see clearer, easy communication about science, making it extra approachable. Especially with regards to vaccines.


“As scientists, we don’t always communicate well … and I think that has to change,” Turner mentioned.

She additionally mentioned she’s already seen that begin to change throughout this pandemic. It is now way more widespread to see researchers speaking to the general public, explaining how illnesses and coverings work.

Confusion can result in mistrust and vaccine hesitancy, in line with Ross.

“That leads us to this idea that there’s this mystery behind what’s happening,” she mentioned. “There’s this black box of what occurs, and science is for the super-elite and the super-smart or whatever, and none of that is true.”

Instead, she mentioned, science is about discovery and asking questions. And maybe the most important question in entrance of all of us now could be when will this pandemic finish? Things gave the impression to be returning to regular in 2021. Then the delta variant arrived.

The extra COVID spreads, the extra it mutates.

“If we can stop the virus being in us and not transmitting it to others, we can stop the variants,” Turner mentioned. “It’s really that simple.”


So, to have much less virus in the inhabitants, Turner says individuals have to be vaccinated, or masking and distancing themselves from others.

“Every time a virus can divide, there’s a chance we’ll have a new variant,” Turner mentioned. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, that new variant is not any worse than the one we see. Maybe one percent, we’re going to see one that is.”

Copyright 2021 by KSAT – All rights reserved.

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