19 October, 2021



October 14, 2021, Cairo – Three researchers from the biotechnology graduate program and chemistry department at The American University in Cairo (AUC) received best presentation awards for young researchers at the 17th Annual Conference of the National Committee of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology (NCBMB) of the Academy of Scientific Research & Technology, titled “COVID-19: Preparing for the Next Pandemic”. Hosted by AUC, the virtual conference highlighted the significant contributions of biochemistry and molecular biology to combating the COVID-19 pandemic. Four papers, supervised by Hassan Azzazy, distinguished university professor and chairman of the Department of Chemistry at AUC, were presented at the conference. Three papers by researchers Ahmed Safwat, Sherif Fahmy, and Ahmed El-Baz received the presentation awards for young researchers. The conference was chaired by Azzazy and Farouk El Baz, professor at the National Research Center.

“We are proud of the work of our young researchers, who have put a lot of effort in achieving such results on such a timely and vital global priority. AUC is keen on cultivating innovation and excellence in science and utilizing its resources to address global health issues. Each year, the conference addresses a pressing health matter, and this year the conference presented cutting edge findings in COVID-19 therapeutic targets, vaccines, diagnostics, and bioanalytics, hosting over 350 participants from many countries,” said Azzazy.

The program included 12 plenary lectures by distinguished scientists and researchers from Canada, Egypt, Germany, and the USA, and 24 prominent speakers from Algeria, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Germany, Indonesia, Iraq, Turkey, and the USA presented their findings in the sessions.

Research Topics of the Best Presentations for Young Researchers

The Role of PIgR in Higher Mortality Rate of COVID-19 Older Patients

Ahmed Safwat ’20, MS, Biotechnology, alongside a team of researchers, sought to explain the factors that might contribute to the higher mortality rate of COVID-19 older patients compared to younger individuals.

Using bioinformatics tools to investigate the aging effect at the level of lung cells to explain factors that might contribute to such higher mortality rate, they found a significant reduction of a critical component, the protein PIgR (polymeric immunoglobulin receptor) of the immune system in older individuals. The protein functions as a transporter to bind the antibodies secreted by immune cells to transport them to the lung cell surface into the mucous layer. This functionality allows the mucous layer to be rich with antibodies that could be able to bind to and neutralize invading pathogens (such as Covid-19 viral particles).

This study suggests that PIgR protein reduction in older individuals might correlate with the observed severity in older COVID patients.

Nature Holds Secrets in the Fight Against Serious Viruses

Sherif Fahmy ’20, Ph.D. in Chemistry, and others loaded natural extract from Peganum harmala (a plant that grows wildly in the Middle East and North Africa) and vitamin C in nanoparticles made of PLGA coated with polyethylene glycol. The prepared nanosystem was characterized regarding its physical and chemical properties and showed a significant killing activity against the influenza virus H1N1 with minimum host toxic effects.

Given the limited availability of anti-influenza treatment choices, this study paves the way toward developing future antiviral nanosystems loaded with natural extracts that could be effective against serious viruses such as COVID-19 and HIV.

Investigating the Variations in COVID-19 Disease Severity

Ahmed El-Baz ’21, MS, Biotechnology, and others investigated the variation in COVID-19 disease severity where some infected patients show moderate respiratory illness (and most of them recover). In contrast, others become severely ill and require intensive medical attention or even die. There are significant interactions among immune cells such as T-cells, B-cells, and monocytes. The research used advanced bioinformatics tools to investigate the difference in immune cellular communications between moderate and severe COVID-19 patients and analyzed the cellular communication of the immune cells from both conditions. A significant reduction in T-cells interactions with other immune cells was observed in severe COVID-19 patients.

Additionally, the production and activity of interferon gamma (which has a major role in macrophage activation and antiviral immunity) was reduced in severe patients. Such reduction in key players of the immune system might cause the improper antiviral response in severe COVID-19 patients.

This study highlights the need for an in-depth understanding of antiviral responses of the immune system, which could help develop therapies and treatment strategies for COVID-19 disease.

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Founded in 1919, The American University in Cairo (AUC) is a leading English-language, American-accredited institution of higher education and center of the intellectual, social, and cultural life of the Arab world. It is a vital bridge between East and West, linking Egypt and the region to the world through scholarly research, partnerships with academic and research institutions and study abroad programs.

The University offers 40 undergraduate, 52 master’s and two PhD programs rooted in a liberal arts education that encourages students to think critically and find creative solutions to conflicts and challenges facing both the region and the world.

An independent, nonprofit, politically non-partisan, non-sectarian and equal opportunity institution, AUC is fully accredited in Egypt and the United States.