The Ott Lab publishes novel research on SARS-CoV-2 variants Read More

Ott Lab News

How Understanding RNA Structure Can Help Researchers Design Better HIV Drugs

To spread between cells in the body and hop from person to person, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) must copy its genetic material, produce viral proteins, and assemble new virus particles. For this complex process to occur, a viral protein called Tat must bind to a section of the virus’s RNA—the molecules that carry instructions for making new proteins—which is called the HIV trans-activation response element (TAR).

The TAR RNA can assume many different shapes, known as conformations. However, the Tat protein can only bind to one of these conformations, and if TAR is in a conformation that does not bind to Tat, HIV won’t replicate. So, understanding how these molecules interact could help scientists design therapies that block HIV replication.

How Zika virus prevents normal brain development once neural progenitor cells are infected

When Zika virus crosses the placenta to infect a foetus in a pregnant woman, it attacks life before it’s had a chance to establish itself, like squashing a seed before planting it. In particular, the virus infects starter cells for the nervous system, neural progenitor cells, thus causing wide-reaching developmental problems down the line. To investigate how these impacts take hold, researchers examined these cells in the lab, and focused on a protein called UPF1, which manages mRNA – transcripts of genes being expressed. Infected cells have less UPF1 and the researchers saw that as a result, transcripts (red) become stuck in the cell nucleus (blue) in cells infected with Zika (green, right), compared to uninfected (left). This reduces the production of proteins from those transcripts, such as one called FREM2, required to maintain and determine the identity of neural progenitor cells, and so hinders healthy development from the start.

Fall’s COVID Shots May Be Different in One Key Way

This year’s might include XBB.1 and … perhaps no other strain.

This fall, millions of Americans might be lining up for yet another kind of COVID vaccine: their first-ever dose that lacks the strain that ignited the pandemic more than three and a half years ago. Unlike the current, bivalent vaccine, which guards against two variants at once, the next one could, like the first version of the shot, have only one main ingredient—the spike protein of the XBB.1 lineage of the Omicron variant, the globe’s current dominant clade.

That plan isn’t yet set. The FDA still has to convene a panel of experts, then is expected to make a final call on autumn’s recipe next month. But several experts told me they hope the agency follows the recent recommendation of a World Health Organization advisory group and focuses the next vaccine only on the strains now circulating.

InvisiShield Technologies Collaborates with Gladstone Institutes to Accelerate Development of Intranasal Preventatives against SARS-CoV-2, Influenza, and RSV

InvisiShield Technologies Ltd., a pre-clinical-stage biotechnology company focused on developing intranasal preventives for major disease-causing respiratory viruses, today announced a collaboration with Gladstone Institutes to develop intranasal preventatives against airborne infection, including SARS-CoV-2, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

Gladstone Institutes, a non-profit biomedical research organization that uses visionary science and technology to overcome disease, will leverage its expertise in immunology and virology to support the collaboration. Gladstone has made significant contributions to better understanding and developing new therapies for a range of viral diseases, including HIV/AIDS and COVID-19.

The collaboration aims to develop intranasal preventatives that can protect individuals from viral infections, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, as well as influenza and RSV. Intranasal preventatives have the potential to serve as an immediate line of defense against viral infections, irrespective of an individual’s vaccination or immune system status, by targeting the nose and upper respiratory tract where most infections originate.

Tips from Virologists to Face the “Tripledemic” This Holiday Season

As we approach the height of the holiday season, some medical experts have warned of a potential “tripledemic”—a simultaneous surge in cases of COVID-19, the flu, and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus).

How concerned should you be, and what does this mean for your holiday plans?

We asked three Gladstone virologists—Senior Investigator Warner Greene, MD, PhD; Director of the Gladstone Institute of Virology Melanie Ott, MD, PhD; and Senior Investigator Nadia Roan, PhD—for their perspectives.

Medical Milestones are Underway at San Francisco’s Gladstone Institutes

When California shut down in March 2020 and many San Franciscans stayed at home, obsessively ordering hand sanitizer, a group of local scientists pivoted from the projects they were working on and poured all their energy into COVID-19. Jennifer Doudna, PhD, and Melanie Ott, MD, PhD, developed a new testing device, using the gene-editing tool CRISPR, that’s as accurate as a PCR test but can provide rapid results at home (it should hit the market next year). And Leor Weinberger, PhD, developed a nasal spray that people can use after they’ve been exposed to COVID, to disrupt the virus’s ability to spread in the body (clinical trials could begin next year).

Here’s What You Should Know about Monkeypox

While the world continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, MPXV has emerged as another global public health emergency. Commonly referred to as monkeypox, this viral disease has now spread to dozens of countries where it is not typically found.

As of August 29, 2022, over 18,000 cases have been reported in the US—the biggest outbreak of MPXV ever seen in the country. More than 700 cases have now occurred in San Francisco. Still, the general risk of MPXV remains very low.

Researchers find SARS-CoV-2 antibodies less effective against Omicron

Researchers at UC Berkeley, the Gladstone Institutes and the Innovative Genomics Institute discovered that the antibodies generated against SARS-CoV-2 and its variants are less effective against the omicron variant.

The omicron variant was first detected in South Africa in late 2021, according to Abdullah Syed, the first author and a postdoctoral fellow at campus professor Jennifer Doudna’s lab. Although COVID-19 has generated many variants since 2020, Syed said the omicron variant is “different” because it had the most mutations and spread more rapidly than other variants.

Scientists find new evidence against using BET inhibitors to treat COVID-19

A while ago, some researchers had suggested that blocking a set of proteins, known as bromodomain and extraterminal (BET) proteins, might be a way to fight COVID-19. However, in a surprising study, scientists at Gladstone Institutes and UC San Francisco (UCSF) discovered that BET proteins are actually crucial for the body to fight infection. In fact, the SARS-CoV-2 virus itself blocks the proteins to try to gain an advantage and continue to spread.

What Makes Omicron More Infectious Than Other COVID-19 Variants

As the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 spread rapidly around the globe earlier this year, researchers at Gladstone Institutes, UC Berkeley, and the Innovative Genomics Institute used virus-like particles to identify which parts of the virus are responsible for its increased infectivity and spread.