Simple Western and the Race to Develop a Vaccine for the COVID-19 Coronavirus

"Simple Western allowed me to screen quickly lots of samples with different antibodies while eliminating the manual washing and incubation steps."

- Dr. Matteo Ferrari, Postdoc, DIOSynVax, Department of Veterinary Medicine, Cambridge, United Kingdom

Dr. Matteo Ferrari

SIMPLE WESTERN AND THE RACE TO DEVELOP A VACCINE TO THE NOVEL CORONAVIRUS

As the world finds itself in the middle of the worst pandemic in a century, finding a vaccine to the deadly COVID-19 coronavirus could not be more urgent. Dr. Ferrari and his colleagues at DIOSynVax (Digitally designed, Immune Optimised Selected and Synthesized Vaccines) are working to develop a DNA vaccine, and Simple Western from ProteinSimple is an important part of that process.

The CEO of DIOSynVax is Dr. Jonathan Heeney, a Professor in the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge. In recent years, Prof. Heeney has won significant funding, including an award from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, for his innovative approach towards DNA vaccine development, making him and his team uniquely suited for the fight against the novel coronavirus.

DNA vaccination involves immunization with a circular DNA plasmid that contains the gene (or genes) that code for an antigen. Dr. Ferrari, a postdoc at DIOSynVax, explains that “when DNA is injected into mice, the plasmid is taken up by cells and its genetic information is translated into the immunizing protein. Thus, before entering the preclinical phase of the study it is necessary to verify that these plasmids can be expressed into a protein. These parts of the study can be done using Western blot.” However, the Western blot is notoriously labor-intensive and time-consuming. That is why they have turned to Simple Western instead.

TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE AND JESS WORKS QUICKLY TO SCREEN ANTIBODIES AND VACCINE CANDIDATES

The Simple Western instrument called Jess™ allowed Dr. Ferrari and his colleagues to screen many antibodies and vaccine candidates quickly. “We were able to test different sets of commercially available antibodies targeting the SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins and to address the expression of our DNA vaccine candidates,” he explains. Incorporating Simple Western into his workflow enabled him “to screen quickly lots of samples with different antibodies while eliminating the manual washing and incubation steps.”

Not only did he save time by using Jess, but “with Jess everything is automated - you just have to load your samples and wait for results,” he remarked. In an era of mandatory social distancing, the automation Simple Western provides makes it possible to minimize time in the lab and run experiments remotely.

SIMPLE WESTERN IS MORE INSIGHTFUL THAN RELATED METHODS LIKE ELISA AND FACS

In addition to speed and automation, Simple Western provides important information on protein biochemistry that other methods based on immunodetection cannot. “ELISA and FACS are limited to the fact that they can only detect antibodies that bind a specific protein. Simple Western can address the exact molecular weight or other parameters such as post-translational modifications that cannot be achieved using ELISA or FACS analysis,” he describes. The power of Simple Western has driven him to spread the word. When asked if he has recommended or successfully transferred the Simple Western assay to another group or institute, his response was simple. “Yes.”

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