Catalan researchers help identify drug that blocks effects of virus that causes covid-19

Part of an international study, IBEC scientists used bioengineering to decipher how SARS-CoV2 interacts with human cells

IBEC employees researching covid-19 (image courtesy of IBEC)
IBEC employees researching covid-19 (image courtesy of IBEC) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

April 3, 2020 11:11 AM


Catalan researchers working on an international study have identified a drug capable of blocking the effects of the SARS-CoV2 virus that causes the covid-19 disease.

Scientists from the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia, or IBEC, found that the new treatment was effective in mini-kidneys generated from human stem cells.

Using these organoids generated by bioengineering techniques, the researchers deciphered how the SARS-CoV2 virus interacts and infects human kidney cells.

The study was published on Thursday in the prestigious journal 'Cell,' and the treatment is now ready to be tested on two hundred covid-19 patients.

What's more, the scientists also managed to validate a therapy able to substantially reduce the viral load of covid-19. 

"Human organoids let us test treatments in an agile way"

"The use of human organoids allows us to test in a very agile way the treatments that are already being used for other diseases or that are close to being validated. When time is short, these 3D structures dramatically reduce the time we would spend trying a new drug on humans" said Núria Montserrat, who heads the IBEC research team.

The research focused on how the virus binds with a receptor in human cells and used bioengineered organoids because they mimic most characteristics of a real organ.

The study provides new insights on key aspects of SARS-CoV2 and its interactions at a cellular level, and also how the virus can infect the blood vessels and kidneys. 

The fact that the receptor the virus binds to is strongly expressed in the kidneys and that SARS-CoV2 is found in urine is what has led the team to use human kidney organoids.

"These findings identify a promising treatment capable of stopping the infection of the new coronavirus in its early stages, which, as of March 30, has affected more than 750,000 people with more than 36,000 lives lost due to covid-19 worldwide," added Montserrat