The US is scrambling to slow the spread of the coronavirus and to find drugs to be used against it.
The FDA has given laboratories and hospitals across the country the go-ahead to conduct tests that had been limited to those analyzed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This now gives the US enough diagnostic kits to test 75,000, with more on the way, according to Alex M. Azar II, the health and human resources secretary, on Sunday’s Face the Nation.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former FDA commissioner, predicted that by the end of the week, public health laboratories will be able to test 10,000 samples a day, with as much as an additional 10,000 a day from academic labs.
In the meantime, researchers in “flyover” country are investigating the coronavirus for cures and ways to handle the outbreak. Here are just a few examples of what cities in the heartland are doing in regard to the virus.
A research team at Butler University in Indianapolis may have discovered a target that may help drug makers crack the code to kill the coronavirus. Butler Biology Assistant Professor Dr. Chris Stobart, is leading the team on work that is focusing on the interdomain loop.
Benjamin Nick, a senior at Butler studying biology and chemistry says it’s like a strand of Christmas lights. “Each light is like a part of the DNA of the virus. One bulb will go out, and it turns off the whole strand,” says Nick. Gottlieb says that the team has identified a region of the protein, called nsp5, that has previously been unexplored and could lead to a drug that kills the virus.
Karla Satchell, a microbiologist at Northwestern Medicine, is leading an effort to investigate the structure biology of the components of the coronavirus as well. The goal is to ultimately understand how to stop the virus from replicating in human cells through a medication or vaccine. Satchell leads the Center for Structural Genomics of Infectious Diseases, which is funded by the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
In this podcast, she explains what her team is doing.
University of Louisville
Dr. Forest Arnold, an infectious disease specialist at the UofL in Louisville, Kentucky has been researching the virus and monitoring the latest headlines.
“Just like a sports team when they get the basics right, then it’s a much better team and they can work on the specialization. Well, the truth with SARS-CoV-2 (Novel Coronavirus) is you’ve got to do the basics right but then all of a sudden you’ve got to ramp up and do special personal protection equipment, so when that comes we’ve got to really be on our game," he said in a briefing for medical staff.
There is no vaccine to prevent COVID-19, but there is an experimental treatment to fight the illness that is being tested. Scientists at the University of Louisville are following the developments.
Purdue University biomedical engineers have developed a handheld paper device that can quickly and accurately detect a different strain of coronavirus, MERS-CoV.
A clear test result can be read directly from the device itself, making it portable.
Because the device isn’t specific to any virus, the same platform could be used to detect the COVID-19 strain. “The most difficult aspect of producing this device is definitely the assembly,” said K Byers, a Ph.D. candidate in biomedical engineering at Purdue.
University of Pittsburgh
Pitt's Center for Vaccine Research is one of about a dozen federally designated Regional Biocontainment Laboratories nationwide to receive samples of COVID-19. The two tiny vials less than two inches tall and a quarter inch around contain roughly 50 million viruses and will enable the researchers to grow the virus to study it.
“It’s significant in the sense that, that’s this is start of the process by which we are able to determine how to stop growing it,” explains Dr. Paul Duprex, PhD, the director of the CVR.