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MIT Technology Review

Experimental molecules fight covid

Researchers are testing lab-designed peptides and cytokine receptors.

Two MIT research groups have designed biological molecules that could help combat the effects of covid-19.

One team, led by principal research scientist Shuguang Zhang and research scientist Rui Qing, developed proteins that could be injected into the body to block “cytokine storms,” immune-system overreactions that damage the lungs and can be fatal. The proteins, lab-modified versions of naturally occurring cytokine receptors, could bind to excess cytokines and remove them from the system, says Qing. Tests in human cells and animal models are planned.

The other team, led by associate professor of chemistry Brad Pentelute, designed a short protein fragment, or peptide, that can bind to the viral protein used to enter human lung cells, potentially disarming it. The peptide mimics a cell surface protein that attaches to one of the protein spikes protruding from the coronavirus. The researchers have sent samples to collaborators who plan to carry out tests in human cells.