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Article | Argonne National Laboratory

Advanced Photon Source illuminates weakness in COVID-19

A potent antibody taken from a surviving patient could be the key to unlocking new COVID-19 treatments.

A team of researchers used one of the most powerful X-ray light sources in the world to examine a neutralizing antibody from a COVID-19 survivor and how it interacts with the virus that causes the disease. These results provide clear insights into how this potent antibody blocks the virus from entering cells. This is promising news, as it could lead to new treatments. The results of the research were published in Nature Communications this week.

The research team, led by scientists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, analyzed an antibody from a blood sample given by a COVID-19 survivor early in the pandemic. They studied the structure of that antibody attached to the spike proteins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the part of the virus that attaches to cells in the human body, using the ultrabright X-rays of the Advanced Photon Source (APS), a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility at DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory. They discovered that the antibody, called CV30, not only prevents the virus from clinging to human cells, it actually causes parts of the spikes that make those connections to break off and fall away.

This work was performed at the Structural Biology Center (SBC) at the APS. The research team made use of remote access technology to control the APS beam without visiting the site.

SBC is one of several beamlines at the APS dedicated to macromolecular crystallography, which means we use X-rays to determine the structures of tiny crystals grown from proteins,” said SBC Director Andrzej Joachimiak, of Argonne and the University of Chicago. Knowing the structures is extremely important for designing treatments and vaccines that can counteract infectious viruses.”

This research is the latest of many contributions the APS has made to the battle against COVID-19. Since January the APS has devoted more than 8,000 hours of experimental time across multiple X-ray beamlines to research on the SARS-CoV-2 virus. As of October 2020, more than 70 groups of researchers have used the APS to learn more about the virus, and lay the groundwork for treatments and vaccines.

The APS is a DOE user facility dedicated to addressing problems of national interest, and is a critical resource in the battle against COVID-19,” said Bob Fischetti, life sciences advisor to the APS director. Much of what we know of the structure of this virus comes from data collected at the APS.”

Read the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center press release.

The Advanced Photon Source is a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility operated for the DOE Office of Science by Argonne National Laboratory. Additional funding for beamlines used for COVID-19 research at the APS is provided by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and by DOE Office of Science Biological and Environmental Research. The APS operated for 10 percent more hours this year than usual to support COVID-19 research, with the additional time supported by the DOE Office of Science through the National Virtual Biotechnology Laboratory, with funding provided by the Coronavirus CARES Act.

About the Advanced Photon Source

The U. S. Department of Energy Office of Science’s Advanced Photon Source (APS) at Argonne National Laboratory is one of the world’s most productive X-ray light source facilities. The APS provides high-brightness X-ray beams to a diverse community of researchers in materials science, chemistry, condensed matter physics, the life and environmental sciences, and applied research. These X-rays are ideally suited for explorations of materials and biological structures; elemental distribution; chemical, magnetic, electronic states; and a wide range of technologically important engineering systems from batteries to fuel injector sprays, all of which are the foundations of our nation’s economic, technological, and physical well-being. Each year, more than 5,000 researchers use the APS to produce over 2,000 publications detailing impactful discoveries, and solve more vital biological protein structures than users of any other X-ray light source research facility. APS scientists and engineers innovate technology that is at the heart of advancing accelerator and light-source operations. This includes the insertion devices that produce extreme-brightness X-rays prized by researchers, lenses that focus the X-rays down to a few nanometers, instrumentation that maximizes the way the X-rays interact with samples being studied, and software that gathers and manages the massive quantity of data resulting from discovery research at the APS.

This research used resources of the Advanced Photon Source, a U.S. DOE Office of Science User Facility operated for the DOE Office of Science by Argonne National Laboratory under Contract No. DE-AC02-06CH11357.

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://​ener​gy​.gov/​s​c​ience.