With his roommate in poor health from the coronavirus last spring, it didn’t take much for John Hollis to believe he would also contract the highly infectious and deadly disease. He was so concerned about what might happen that he wrote a letter to his teenage son, Davis, in case “things deteriorated quickly,” Hollis said.
It turned out that Hollis already unknowingly had Covid-19 and may have unintentionally infected her roommate.
Hollis, the communications officer at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., Learned in July that he belonged to a rare category of people whose blood could help scientists understand Covid-19 and potentially treat those who fall sick.
Covid-19, it seems, cannot harm it, said Dr Lance Liotta, a pathologist and bioengineer at George Mason University who heads the school’s clinical trials on antibodies.
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Hollis, 54, a former journalist, has learned that his blood is enriched with so-called super antibodies – antibodies that neutralize the virus, which, even diluted 10,000 times, is still resistant to Covid-19, Liotta said.
This is a medical phenomenon found in less than 5% of the population who have contracted the coronavirus, study says, making Hollis and her blood valuable resources to identify potential treatments for Covid-19, Liotta said .
“Thanks to John and others, we have been propelled into an exciting new science,” Liotta said. “Knowing your antibodies gives us new ways to fight Covid. “
In short, by using Hollis’ antibodies – the Y-shaped proteins in the blood used by the immune system to identify and fight bacteria and viruses – Liotta and her team will, as part of their trials, “understand from exponentially better how to kill the coronavirus and mass produced antibodies like John’s “for the general population to protect them from the virus, like the drug Regeneron, which President Donald Trump took after announcing in early October that he had tested positive.
“If this sounds crazy to you, imagine how I feel,” said Hollis, former sports reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
More than 20 million people in the United States have contracted the deadly virus as vaccines slowly become available. But treatment for the virus remains necessary, which makes Hollis’ “super” antibodies invaluable.
Her story began after taking her son, Davis, on a trip to Europe in early March. Shortly after their return from London and Paris and just before flights to the United States stopped, Hollis experienced congestion, which he associated with the normal sinus issues that accompany this time of year for him.
The symptoms disappeared quickly, but her roommate, who did not want to be named, fell seriously ill with Covid-19 for a month. Fearing for his friend, Hollis stood at his door early every morning and listened to the movement to make sure he was still alive. Hollis constantly wiped down the townhouse they shared and confined himself to his room.
“He was scared to death,” said Hollis’ closest friend Kevin W. Tydings, a lawyer in Charlotte, North Carolina. “I called him pretty much every day for two weeks to check on him. I was worried about him. He thought he would get it. But to his credit, he held on and stayed there, because he didn’t want to go out and give it to someone else. ”
He was particularly worried about his son. Hollis said he was “petrified” that Davis may have contracted Covid-19 during their trip. He was also afraid of dying from the virus and not seeing his son become a man.
“I was at a strange peace with everything that has happened to me, but saddened by the prospect of not living to see my son go through such major life milestones, like graduating from high school, college. , get married and become a father himself, ”Hollis told me. “On April 8, I sat down and wrote a letter to my son, so that he would have it if I was not there. I wrote the first sentence, and I cried. I read it every month, and I cry right away. … I’m just thankful that I didn’t have to give it to her. ”
But Hollis did not get seriously ill. In mid-July, he volunteered to participate in a campus coronavirus study, enthusiastically supported by incoming George Mason University president Gregory Washington and led by Liotta, former deputy director of the Nationals. Institutes of Health.
Shortly after, Liotta called Hollis one evening to tell her it contained “great” antibodies.
Hollis said he recalled feeling “total shock”.
“I was there, scared for my roommate and afraid of contracting Covid,” he says. “Instead, I had it before and probably gave it to him. He had a bad deal. I feel so bad for him. And I can’t get it? Am I waterproof? Can my antibodies help modern science? It was a lot to deal with. ”
George Mason University is one of 13 NIH-sponsored Biosafety Level 3 biomedical research laboratories that have the necessary facilities to process live samples of Covid-19. Liotta and her team were able to determine when Hollis had the virus. Hollis was relieved that her son hadn’t contracted it.
“He is in excellent health,” Hollis said.
Since August, Hollis has donated blood and saliva samples roughly every two weeks for lab tests and experiments. Liotta said that Hollis’ antibody levels were not only maintained, but were also found to be effective in killing six different strains of the coronavirus.
Liotta’s team found seven other people with “super” antibodies for the clinical trial. Hollis is different from others in that his antibodies retained at least 90% of their strength nine months after having the coronavirus. Most similar antibodies dissipate in 60 to 90 days, Liotta said.
Also, Liotta said, Hollis’ “super” antibodies will help in the next phase of the clinical trial – testing it in those who have taken the vaccine to make sure their antibodies have been raised by the injection.
“Everything is very exciting,” he said. “And all because of our patients like John. “
Other public health officials are also excited, such as Dr Pierre Vigilance, assistant professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University School of Public Health, who is founder and director of HealthUp Strategic Advisors.
Vigilance, who led local emergency response efforts for the H1N1 outbreak in the Washington, DC area in 2009, said he understood Liotta’s enthusiasm.
“Think of a key and a lock,” Vigilance said. “Viruses have a key to our cells. This coronavirus key is the enriched protein, which can pick the lock and enter our cells. It’s very effective for that. An antibody is like a piece of chewing gum that hardens around the key. The key has not won in the lock, so it prevents viruses from entering the cells.
“The ‘super’ antibodies are more effective at preventing viruses from entering our cells,” he added. “About 75% of coronavirus patients have binding antibodies, which do not neutralize the virus. Less than 5% of coronavirus patients have the “super” antibodies, making them extremely important to replicate and use in therapy. The fact that so few people make these types of antibodies means that it is important to learn how to harvest and replicate this. ”
Hollis remains amazed by the discovery, but he still wears a mask and practices social distancing. The gravity of his situation has also weighed on him for months.
“To say this whole surreal experience was hard to digest is an understatement,” he said. “Dr. Liotta and his team are amazing. On the one hand, I am eternally grateful and feel blessed beyond measure to still be healthy and to have somehow that rare natural protection against a deadly virus that now kills over 3,000 Americans a day. and negatively affecting everyone, but especially African Americans and others of color.
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“But, on the other hand, you just have to turn on the television or glance at any newspaper to see the great wave of death and misery all over the world from the virus. It makes me ask, ‘Why me? Why was I spared when so many others weren’t? ”
He said he had stayed up late at night since July reflecting on his experience.
“The truth is, I couldn’t find any real answers except maybe God has a plan for me,” he said. “Or maybe I’m just lucky.
“Anyway, I know I have long preached to my son that we all share the responsibility of making the world a better place than when we arrived. Never in a million years could I have imagined that this was how I could help do just that. ”
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