ETSU’s Yao/Moorman group publishes first COVID-19 paper

Published 10:06 am Tuesday, June 1, 2021

JOHNSON CITY – A group of East Tennessee State University scientists recently published their first COVID-19 related paper emerging from funding awarded to Dr. Zhi Q. Yao by the American Diabetes Association (ADA).
The paper, titled “Blockage of SARS-CoV-2 spike protein-mediated cell–cell fusion using COVID-19 convalescent plasma,” was recently published in Scientific Reports. The funding Yao received from the ADA in 2020 was the university’s first major funding for COVID-19-specific research.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic remains a serious threat to global public health. In an effort to treat individuals suffering from severe COVID illness, patients have received FDA-approved treatment with convalescent plasma. This type of passive immunotherapy has been used to treat a number of infectious diseases, including influenza, Ebola, and other corona virus illnesses, such as SARS and MERS. 
“In this study, we examined how well the plasma from humans who have recovered from COVID-19 could block the virus being able to bind to human cells” said Yao, professor in ETSU Quillen College of Medicine’s Department of Internal Medicine. “We showed that the spike protein on the virus is very good at helping the virus fuse with and enter human cells. Importantly, we were able to show that the human plasma containing high titers of neutralizing antibodies can block this viral fusion and entry by interfering with the interaction between the virus spike protein and the human cells.” 
These findings suggest that COVID-19 convalescent plasma may not only inhibit the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, but also cross-neutralize other SARS-CoV-2 spike protein-mediated membrane fusion and virus entry, supporting its potential as a preventive and/or therapeutic agent against SARS-CoV-2 as well as other related SARS-CoV infections.
Yao, Dr. Jonathan Moorman, and fellow scientists continue to study COVID-19. An additional VA Merit Award to Moorman and Yao has also just been garnered to study immune responses to SARS CoV-2, and additional publications are in progress.
The authors of this paper, all members of ETSU’s Department of Internal Medicine, include: Dr. Ling Wang, assistant professor; Dr. Juan Zhao, assistant professor;  Lam N. T. Nguyen, Ph.D. student; James L. Adkins, clinical research coordinator; Madison Schank, Ph.D. student; Sushant Khanal, Ph.D. student; Lam N. Nguyen, Ph.D. student; Xindi Dang, Ph.D. student; Dechao Cao, research assistant; Dr. Bal Krishna Chand Thakuri, technician; Dr. Zeyuan Lu, technician; Dr. Jinyu Zhang, postdoctoral associate; Yi Zhang, laboratory coordinator; Xiao Y. Wu, laboratory manager; Dr. Mohamed Elgazzar, professor; Dr. Shunbin Ning, associate professor; Dr. Jonathan P. Moorman, professor; Dr. Zhi Q. Yao, professor. (Names in bold indicate membership in ETSU’s Center of Excellence in Inflammation, Infectious Disease and Immunity.)

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