Boston University Researchers Combine COVID Strains To Study Case Severity

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BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — Researchers at Boston University are refuting recent media claims that lab staff created a deadlier COVID-19 strain, and further, are asserting the research made the virus replicate less dangerous.

The allegations, first published in the United Kingdom-based newspaper the Daily Mail, say that university researchers made a new more lethal, hybrid strain of the virus by combining "Omicron and the original Wuhan strain — that killed 80 percent of mice in a study."

The study from which these claims originated has stated one of its goal is to examine the spike proteins of the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant (BA.1), comparing it against the original COVID strain to understand virus mutations, and identify why the Omicron variant results in a smaller rate of severe infections.

The source of the work, BU's National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL) on Albany Street, responded to the reports via the university's research publication The Brink, saying the article misrepresents what the study is about and takes one line from its abstract out of context. That line is concerning the strain's supposed kill rate on mice, something NEIDL Director and BU Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine Chair of Microbiology Ronald Corley says media reports are solely looking at, misunderstanding the study.

““First, this research is not gain-of-function research, meaning it did not amplify the Washington state SARS-CoV-2 virus strain or make it more dangerous. In fact, this research made the virus replicate less dangerous. The animal model that was used was a particular type of mouse that is highly susceptible, and 80 to 100 percent of the infected mice succumb to disease from the original strain, the so-called Washington strain, whereas Omicron causes a very mild disease in these animals." Corley said in The Brink.

The study goes on to say the original strain of COVID-19 killed 100 percent of the lab mice that were infected. In other words, the hybrid virus created at BU was found to be more lethal to mice than omicron, but less so than the first Washington strain.

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There is no evidence BU researchers violated any guidelines while conducting its research, though the governmental patron of the project, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases were apparently not made aware of the work, learning of it only when media outlets picked it up, according to STAT.

The paper that reveals the findings of the BU study was published in a preprint and has not been peer-reviewed yet.

WBZ's James Rojas (@JamesRojasNews) reports.

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