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Keys to coronavirus vaccine may come from UNLV

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As the coronavirus pandemic continues to take terrible tolls on human lives and cause economic hardship, scientists around the world scramble for a COVID-19 vaccine.

They include Michael Pravica, a UNLV physics professor.

Pravica believes it’s possible to use precisely targeted x-rays to develop and mass-produce a high-quality vaccine, for not only COVID-19 but for other viruses, including those which could cause future pandemics.

“The biggest problem with creating vaccines is you want to damage the virus enough that it is deactivated. It’s not live, so it can’t infect the host,” Pravica said. “We’re arguing that with select tuned x-rays, using our techniques, you can create much less overall damage but you get much more targeted damage to basically produce the best quality vaccine you possibly could.”

The professor also sees how the process, including elements for which he has filed patents in the name of UNLV, can be adapted to other viruses including HIV.

The process would see viruses' structures analyzed and targets on the virus identified and exposed to x-rays, while still allowing the human body to activate its antibodies and develop immunity.

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“There are viruses right now as we speak, such as COVID-19, such as HIV, that have boggled researchers that they cannot still get a proper vaccine for,” said Pravica. “This is a fascinating intersection of sciences - physics, biochemistry, molecular biology. That’s where you get the most interesting science and the most ability to solve problems.”

The process, according to Pravica, could even have applications "in vivo," or inside the body, by directing the exact level of x-rays into a living patient to destroy enough of the infection to give the person enough of a reprieve to allow their own immune system to catch up.

“The medical doctors are most excited about my in vivo technique by maybe possibly damaging the virus in the host,” said Pravica. He also says he has yet to speak with a biochemist who can see a reason why this might not work.

“If we can get some funding, I’m going to apply for some remote experiments, buy up some viral samples, they won’t be COVID-19 right away, but that’s something that is human trials,” said Pravica. “We would take proof of principle, some well-known virus or bacteria, damage it, and then see if it worked. Reinfect the host and then basically make the correlation.”

If eventually put into practice, Pravica says the technique could also be easily adapted to develop vaccines for viruses that have mutated, allowing them to continue to be a threat to humans. “We have to stay on top of nature, and this is one very elegant way to stay on top of it.”

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