Omicron, a new variant of the coronavirus, has accumulated a total of about 50 mutations, of which more than 30 concern spike protein changes. According to Piotr Rzymski, an expert in the field of medical biology, the level of knowledge about the omicron is still too small to make definitive assessments about it.
Doctor habilitated Piotr Rzymski from the Medical University of Karola Marcinkowski in Poznań noticed that the level of knowledge about the omicron variant is still too small to make definitive assessments about it. He emphasized that the research results are of key importance in this respect. At the same time, he warned to be “cautious” with respect to partial results, which – as he pointed out – do not determine the issue in a definitive way. – As for the research results, the soonest we will hear about the results of research on how the omicron variant affects the neutralizing force of an antibody. These are studies that can be carried out quite quickly, using the serum of vaccinated people, but also the serum of convalescents or convalescents, to check, under experimental, laboratory conditions, how these antibodies cope in comparison with the mutated omicron variant spike protein – he explained.
Omicron and other variants of the coronavirus
A medical biology expert noted that such studies had also been conducted previously with other variants, and that their results had in the past created “media panic” and concern that the variant would counteract the efficacy of the vaccines developed. – This was the case with the South African beta variant, which in fact escaped well from neutralizing antibodies in research of this type, but it did not ultimately turn out to be a variant that dominated the world, and is a variant – omitting the omicron, because in this case it is not yet we know – of all the variants known so far, which escaped the antibody response best, he added. Rzymski emphasized that even then scientists emphasized that such research was only a small fragment of reality related to the functioning of the vaccinated person’s immune system, which was analyzed and cannot be extrapolated, extended to other elements of the specific immune system response, because they require completely different research . In other words, even if a variant is easier to deal with antibodies, at most it means that it has a better chance of infecting the cell. However, bypassing antibodies does not bypass all immunity, because there is still cellular immunity in people who are convalescents, who are vaccinated, and the purpose of which is to identify certain infected cells and eliminate them – he explained. He pointed out that it could be described using military language. – Antibodies are such entanglements. Sometimes the enemy will pass through them, because he attacks with great force, and other times he is better masked. It enters the territory of our organism, but an army is stationed there, which has a description of the aggressor and knows how it works. So it is quickly attacked before it goes deep and causes havoc. On the occasion of this fight, clinical symptoms may appear, but in general they are very mild, and sometimes we do not even know that such a battle took place, he said.
Variant “hailed” as a record holder
The expert emphasized that experiments with other variants teach that vaccinated people who did not receive the delta-optimized formulation have this cellular response, if their immune system responded correctly to vaccination, of course.
– It is possible that we will hear that the omicron variant reduces the neutralizing power of the antibody, but this does not immediately mean huge problems. It may well mean that the risk of infection in the vaccinated person will be higher than in the case of other variants, but it will not necessarily translate into a higher risk of severe infection – he emphasized. – Moreover, we know that in infected and previously vaccinated people, this elimination time is significantly shortened. What does it mean? That the frequency of mutating is limited and the chance of transmitting this virus to another person is also reduced. Will this be the case with the omicron variant? We do not know this at the moment, but we can expect it – he added. Rzymski emphasized that the omicron variant has already been “hailed” as a record holder, but it is worth knowing the scale of these mutations. – The omicron variant accumulated a total of about 50 mutations, of which over 30 concern spike protein changes. Even if this number of changes in the spike protein is a record, it is about 30 amino acid changes, and yet this protein has about 1270. I think this shows us the scale of the changes. On the one hand, record-breaking, and on the other hand, not as big as we could imagine. It is still the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, from which you should protect yourself in the same way as against any other variant – he stressed.
Mutations in the spike protein
The expert pointed out that some of the mutations cumulated in the omicron variant are already known from alpha, beta, gamma or delta variants.
– For this reason, we can expect that the omicron variant will be a fairly good transmission variant. Anyway, it quickly appeared in various regions of the world. Among other things, it has mutations known from the delta variant, which increase the affinity of the spike protein for the receptor on the surface of our cells and accelerate fusion with the membrane. However, we cannot say exactly at the moment that it will be, for example, a certain percentage more infectious. We can see that in South Africa its share is increasing relative to the delta variant, but remember that in this region not much genome-wide analysis is done. We have to wait for data from other parts of the world, from the USA or Great Britain, said Rzymski.
Referring to the mutations related to the spike protein, he noted that some of them concern a region called the receptor binding domain. This is the small piece of the spike protein that comes into contact with the receptor on the surface of our cells for the first time. – Seeing a relatively large number of changes in this fragment, we can expect that this variant will be less well recognized by neutralizing antibodies. It is them that, by attacking the receptor binding domain, prevent the virus from infecting the cell. Additionally, looking at the profile of these mutations in the omicron variant, we can conclude that this is a variant that transmits quite well, possibly more. The question is: by how much? Scientific research will provide answers, but let’s be patient – appealed the expert.
He added that the “success” of the omicron variant could be determined by the resultant of these two features: high transmissivity and significant antibody escape. – Will it eliminate the delta variant, as delta eliminated the alpha variant to such an extent that in Europe, alpha has been removed from the group of worrying variants? We do not know that for now, we will definitely see a castle on the coronavirus scene – he said. Rzymski noted that while waiting for the results of research on the new variant, it is worth taking a booster dose. And whoever has not vaccinated yet, better do it, because then his immune system will be in a privileged position. “The cellular response should deal with it, even if it breaks through the antibody entanglements,” he noted.
Main photo source: tvn24