U of I shifts into coronavirus research project

The University of Idaho is moving around some federal research money to focus on a possible coronavirus treatment.

A team from the U of I’s Department of Biological Sciences will use a $100,000 National Science Foundation grant to look for drugs that block viruses — including the novel coronavirus — from attacking human cells.

The team hopes to complete preliminary tests within a year.

The idea behind the research is to come up with a drug that doesn’t attack the virus itself, but instead shields the human cell. The drug would preventing the “spikes” on the coronavirus from docking with, and infecting, a healthy human cell.

Jagdish Patel, a University of Idaho research assistant professor. Photo courtesy  U of I.

This is likely to be a more effective strategy over a longer period of time, said Jagdish Patel, a research assistant professor at the U of I. That’s because viruses can evolve rapidly, thwarting antiviral drugs.

If researchers can identify a drug that can block the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, Patel said, the drug should also neutralize other viruses that attack the respiratory system. Researchers also hope to build a framework to respond to future outbreaks.

“With the pipeline in place, we will also be able to respond much more quickly to any other disease outbreaks,” Patel said in a U of I news release. “We’re designing the pipeline to be flexible so we can adjust to the different challenges each virus poses.”

The federal money originally came to the U of I for a Department of Physics research project, designed to determine the way amino acid changes affect the interactions between proteins and other molecules.

“Funding agencies are giving leeway to researchers with existing grants to shuttle resources toward the COVID pandemic,” said Marty Ytreberg, the physics professor working on the original project. “We decided this was a good investment, because it has the potential to lead to a therapeutic and fits within the theme of the grant.”




Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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