Northwestern Medicine scientists have developed a new protein that acts as a trickster to neutralize the COVID-19 infection in a human kidney organoid, a miniature organ made from stem cells in the lab.

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The protein is a variant of ACE2 (angiotensin converting enzyme-2), the receptor the coronavirus uses to enter and infect human cells. The modified protein intercepts the S spike of the coronavirus and fools it into binding to it rather than the real ACE2 receptor in cell membranes.

“The idea was to administer our protein to intercept the coronavirus before it gets to the natural receptor in the cell membranes,” said lead study author Dr. Daniel Batlle, a professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a Northwestern Medicine physician. “To make it more efficacious, we modified the ACE2 protein to extend its duration of action from hours to days. That feature will be critical for patient use.”

The study was published Feb. 1 in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.

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