Virologist Nadiya Zholobak About the Possible Vaccination Problems and the Influence of Viruses on the Immortality
What processes are key for body aging? Can viruses fight tumors? What are corona virus peculiarities and what you have to focus on to protect yourself against COVID-19? These and other questions are addressed by the Ukrainian scientist, virologist, Candidate of Sciences in Biology Nadiya Zholobak in the interview for Biohacking Conference Kyiv 2020.
Nadiya is an author of popular science articles, award winner of A.V. Palladin Prize of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. She works as a senior associate at Danylo Zabolotny Institute of Microbiology and Virology at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine.
In the interview, Nadiya shared her knowledge about viruses and factors of their mutation, their influence of the human longevity, as well as vaccination against COVID-19.
The interviewer: Biohacking Conference Kyiv (BCK)
The respondent: Nadiya Zholobak (N.Z.)
BCK: What factors influence cell damaging and human body ageing process?
N.Z.: Cell damage and body ageing is based on the breach of balance between cell and environment interaction. In other words, because of the decrease of the cell recovery possibilities, the effect of the environmental factors becomes uncompensated.
The essence of the living organisms and other forms of matter is in the constant interaction and reflection in the real forms of such interaction. This is the way the body is created from the embryo, gets mature and ages up. Too strong influence of the environmental factors that can not be adequately compensated is responsible for quick or moderate wearing off of recovery possibilities of the cell and body as a whole.
Keep in mind the papers of Volodymyr Frolkis, Head of the Physiology Lab at Institute of Gerontology at the National Academy of Medical Sciences of Ukraine, whose works have indeservingly gone into shadows. It was he who created the adaptive regulatory theory of ageing, introduced the notion of vitauct – constant antiaging process happening in the body.
According to his theory, the balance between the processes of ageing and antiaging ensures the stable functioning of the body, reflects the essence of everything that happens and all biological form of matter movement. He also developed a hypothesis about the gene regulating mechanism of development of age pathology and the concept of gene regulating therapy, analyzed neural humoral and membrane changes in the process of ageing, discovered a new class of intercell regulators (invertors), created new approaches towards experimental life prolongation.
But what do we know about that? Unfortunately, not a lot. Before trying to create something new, it’s better to study the matter in details, and the results obtained by our predecessors. This would help to avoid possible mistakes and, leaning on the works of the pioneers, to see further and understand more.
BCK: Can viruses be used to slow down ageing or make the body younger?
N.Z.: For now, they are not being used for this per se. But we know that acute inflammatory diseases provoked by viruses, bacteria, fungi are stressing out and changing the normal metabolic processes, wasting the internal reserves and accelerate cell ageing and, as a result, the body as a whole.
On the other hand, the engagement of the immune system is driven by the necessity of a constant contact with environmental pathogens. But we need to understand that everything depends on the intensity of the irritatory agent. That’s why the use of vaccines – viruses in the specifically changed form – can be reviewed as a rejuvenating mean protecting the whole body (in case of a quality development and proper use of vaccines) from the uncompensated infective process.
The other question is the influence of viruses on the immortality, the so-called immortalization. Some viruses make the cells ‘immortal’ when they enter them. The immortality of such cell shall be understood as a possibility to divide limitlessly, unlike all other regular cells. But the irony is that we don’t like the start of this process in our body. And we call it cancer formation.
For the moment, we know so little about the role of viruses we constantly contact with, the viruses that don’t provoke any noticeable inflammatory process (we just don’t care about them). Their role in our life still needs to be studied. It could be possible that they may be influencing the life duration. It’s known that gnotobiont animals live twice as less as the usual animals from the same brood living in regular conditions with diverse microorganisms. But the study of such diversity is not a task for poor countries; this is the task for the future.
BCK: Can virotherapy be considered a promising method of treatment diseases?
N.Z.: Scientists have been using virotherapy for a long time, which means the application of antagonizer viruses triggering certain pathologic processes in the body. Classical example of this method is phagotherapy when we use specific bacteriophage to fight the pathogenic bacteria, which initiates a lytic process. You can find numerous articles in the web about the viruses that can be targeted to attack cancerous cells, slowing down the tumor growth.
In addition, USA is conducting the 2nd and 3rd stages of clinical research of the medication for healing the severe forms of tumor processes based on the vesicular stomatitis viruses, Newcastle disease and adenoviruses. Such approach is especially promising for the inoperable tumors, e.g. the brain cord and spinal cord when any surgery can be fatal. Virus in such conditions treats everything with care, triggering lysis of the transformed cells and leaving the normal and unchanged cells.
BCK: Can bacteria fully exchange the antibiotics? Why?
N.Z.: No, they can’t. Fags are the highly specific obligate parasites of the bacteria. Even for the representatives of the same stem of bacteria, different highly specific fags are required. Their detachment, cultivating, collection and further transportation (requiring cool chain) makes this approach to fighting the pathogenic microbes a nice but rarely implemented in real life. The key disadvantage is that to find new adequate fags for new types of microorganisms, you need serious investment and, more important, time.
Keep in mind that antibiotics can’t solve all problems. By destroying one form of microorganisms, we create the conditions for other forms that enter the ecological niche that became free, and these new forms can be even more dangerous than the ones we destroyed.
The main thing we miss is understanding of the strong correlation between all life forms presented in the human body, same as in any other multicellular organism. Just by analyzing this integrity, understanding the laws of its interactions, we can cure the reason of pathologic development in most adequate way. And today, our approaches in this sphere seem more like fighting fire with drops of water.
BCK: Which factors influence the virus mutation?
N.Z.: To put it briefly, all virus environment. These are all known factors of the environment: physical, chemical, biological, including the anthropogenic.
BCK: Can SARS-CoV-2 mutate into the safe form for humans in the nearest time? Why?
N.Z.: The corona virus that became a pandemic today, same as all other viruses of this family is characterized by the significantly long chain of nucleic acid in its content. Thus, in the process of virus recreation in the cell, there might be mistakes when it’s copied. And these ‘mistakes’ is a variability material. But it’s worth noting that the mutation potential of corona viruses is twice more weaker than the flue viruses (and that is also related to the structure of their nucleic acids). The virus pathogenicity is influenced by many factors: the state of the host body, toxic environment, presence of xenobiotics, season.
The direction of changing the activity/ pathogenicity of virus depends on the conditions of its reproduction. But, taking into consideration the laws of nature known to us, we can say that the key evolutionary direction of the highly pathogenic forms is related to the their transition to moderate or weak pathogenic. Such regime of reproduction ensures the preservation of the host, meaning the human.
If we analyze the death rate and common morbidity rate on the planet, the virus that circulates today can’t be considered as highly dangerous. The problem is not in the virus itself, but in the existing healthcare system, as well as in the general economic system and modern public lifestyle.
BCK: Do you think more aggressive forms of the virus causing COVID-19 can appear?
N.Z.: Depending on the artificial regulation of conditions for virus replication, we can get more or less aggressive forms. But the surviving of the aggressive forms is limited by the nature. And when they enter the conditions of natural circulation, they are displaced by the low pathogenic forms.
BCK: According to your predictions, when will the efficient vaccine appear so that people would be protected against COVID-19?
N.Z.: I can’t predict the date when the efficient vaccine enters the market: there’re too many factors that can’t be analyzed. Despite the previous century has been dedicated to the study of flu, we don’t know many things and don’t understand the peculiarities of respiratory infections. I would ask another question: what do we understand as “people would be protected against COVID-19”? And why exactly a vaccine?
I’ll elaborate. First of all, if this infection is carried out without symptoms and in the mild form by the 80% of the population, and for the rest of patients, its seriousness is driven by the nonfulfillment of simple norms of behavior during the infecting, unhealthy lifestyle, chronic pathologic processes and old age, than we have an issue with vaccinations.
Perhaps, it’s better to take into considerations the factors complicating the progression of the disease and influence them? Thus, focus on the preventive measures – it’s much cheaper, easier and more efficient.
Another factor in this matter is an inability of such part of population to produce strenuous immune response to vaccine intake. These people are having such strong disease progression because of that. And taking even the best vaccine will not be a driver for creating the proper protection for such individuals. They can’t have proper protection exactly because of the exhaustion (age involution) of their immune system.
And our goal is to explain what we need to do in real life, how to change it not to get sick. And even if we get sick, than it shall be in mild form, without the break of compensatory mechanisms.
There’s another problem related to vaccination that immunologists are aware of but predominantly choose to not see it. And that is forming of antibody-dependent cell-mediated cytotoxicity as a response to vaccine intake. This problem was first faced during the widely anti-flu vaccination at organized teams, in offices, at enterprises with the majority of young employees working there or people with a complete immune response (these regularities are only found under the conditions of cohort analysis).
Vaccination of immunologically uncompromised persons that is designed to protect them from infecting has gained the reverse effect. If they didn’t get sick during the whole epidemic season, at the end of it many vaccinated people got severe progress of a disease.
The specialist understand a mechanism of such response. But it’s unknown why the desire to ‘do what’s best’ turns into the usual unhappy result. In other words, vaccines against respiratory diseases don’t always become a solution of the problem.
It’s vice versa: instead of the light disease without vaccination, the vaccine application leads to a severe infection process. And for the corona viruses, as a group of viruses transmitted respiratory, the same way as flu, such sequence of reactions also must be true. In the meantime, we wait.
BCK: From the scientific point of view, can we slow down the ageing process with a help of a healthy lifestyle, sports, nootropics and other biohacking approaches? Why?
N.Z.: Of course. By limiting the influence of factors beyond the historically formed range of modification variability, on the one hand, and by training our body and thus extending the stability range on the other hand, we can not only improve life duration, but also keep its quality.
BCK: What will you talk about at Biohacking Conference Kyiv 2020?
N.Z.: About the role of viro/micro/macrobiome in the human life. About the role of viruses, microbes, fungi in our lives. And about the ways of applying this knowledge to improve the quality and duration of life of each certain individual.
On November 11, Nadiya Zholobak will make a presentation at Biohacking Conference Kyiv 2020 titled “The role of viruses and microbes in our life and their influence on the body aging processes”. The scientist will also answer questions of the audience.