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Interview: ‘We need to understand how zoonotic spill-over events occur’

This is an interview with a PhD student of the Disease Intervention Strategies projects in a series of background articles. Keep following this website for the next interview in this series.

Interview with Anna Mykytyn, PhD student of the Coronavirus spike cross-reactive antibodies: Identification, action, mechanisms and protective efficacy project at Erasmus MC.

Anna Mykytyn is developing new methods to study the way antibodies neutralize viruses to understand how viruses enter the body.

‘Over the past decades coronaviruses have spilled over from other species into humans. However, it’s clear that we were not prepared for spillover of SARS-CoV-2. It is likely that our lack of knowledge contributed to the way the pandemic developed! The current state of the world, regrettably, emphasizes the relevance of my research.

We need to understand how and when these zoonotic spillover events may occur, and understanding the evolution and adaptation of coronaviruses can help with this. It is exactly what my research hopes to contribute to. I’m studying the ways the body can block the entry of coronaviruses and, more specifically, identify and characterize “cross-reactive antibodies”, i.e. antibodies that neutralize an array of different viruses.

The traditional test for studying neutralization, the neutralization assay, can be expanded upon. At least for my purposes. I want to develop methods that characterize the antibodies in a more relevant way, that get closer to a reflection of the situations in vivo, inside the body. To do so, I’m using a variety of cell lines for testing. Later, I plan to build on these methods to characterize antibodies within relevant organ systems.

I’ve always been enthusiastic about studying cell biology, microbiology and immunology. The spike protein on corona viruses attracted my interest during my Master’s project and I’ve been fortunate to continue this research. In my opinion, this is important research: the more we know about how coronaviruses enter the body, the better we can prevent it from happening.’

PhD project: Coronavirus spike cross-reactive antibodies: Identification, action mechanisms and protective efficacy.