The global COVID pandemic is not yet fully under control as there were over 21 million new cases of SARS-CoV-2 infections and over 50,000 deaths globally as of January of 2022. A heavily mutated variant of concern, Omicron is responsible for most of these cases which demands an urgency for a new vaccine. NIH reports over 180 vaccine candidates that use various strategies currently in development. However, a recurring concern with these vaccines is that the continuous viral mutations decrease the efficacy of vaccines. Therefore, we proposed to construct a human rhinovirus (HRV) based chimeric virus containing highly conserved, broadly neutralizing antibody epitopes of SARS-CoV-2 as a universal vaccine candidate. The HRV: SARS-CoV-2 chimeric virus was constructed using recombinant DNA technology, where DNA sequence encoding conserved epitopes of SARS-CoV-2 were inserted into HRV plasmid, transcribed into mRNA, and transfected into HeLa cells. With the research ongoing, we have inserted the epitopes of interest into HRV, however, we found the chimeric virus mutates itself to remove portions of the insert after being passaged a few times. Thus, we were unsuccessful in making the chimeric virus. Although this thesis research is focused on the construction and characterization of a chimeric virus as a vaccine candidate, the goal of the study is to develop an effective universal vaccine against different strains of SARS-CoV-2.

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Dr Guohua Yi, Dr Ramakrishna Vankayalapati, Dr Vijaya Lella Rao, Dr Ji Honglong


Masters of Science in Biotechnology