UNC needs volunteers for Coronavirus vaccine trials


It's a strangely attractive offer, but that could just be a brutal case of cabin fever:

The vaccine trial at UNC will be a Phase 3 clinical trial of a vaccine against COVID-19 developed by Moderna, a private research company.

Moderna’s vaccine is based on taking genetic material, known as mRNA, from the coronavirus. When a person gets the vaccine, their cells will make viral proteins from this mRNA, just as they would if they were infected by the coronavirus. Their immune system should learn to detect these proteins to fight off future exposure to COVID-19.

While I'm trying to decide if I want to be one of UNC's little Outbreak monkeys, here's some stuff on genetics that flies over this primate's head:

Dittmer uses advanced genetic sequencing techniques to better understand viruses. His research has traditionally focused on viruses that can cause cancer, but the techniques can also help with the coronavirus. “We’re trying to predict what the virus will look like in a week, a month or a year from now,” Dittmer said.

By sequencing the genomes of the coronavirus in patients at UNC and comparing those to genomes around North Carolina and the world, researchers can better understand how the virus spreads and mutates, which can affect how doctors treat COVID-19.

For instance, the test that is typically used to diagnose COVID-19 is based on detecting just one small, specific segment of the coronavirus’ genetic material. If this segment changes too much, the test may no longer work.

Dittmer said sequencing shows this part of the viral genome is very slow to mutate, so the tests should be effective for a while.

Similarly, most vaccines are based on getting the immune system to recognize the spike protein that’s on the surface of the coronavirus. If the genes that code for the protein change a lot, even a vaccinated person’s immune system may not detect it. Fortunately these genes are also slow to change.

Okay, I actually do understand most of that, on a layman's level anyway. Entering Phase 3 is a pretty big deal; it shows the science behind it is strong enough to proceed with human trials, so keep your fingers crossed. And clean.