OU researchers return to their labs, seeking potential COVID-19 treatments

May 30th, 2020

Several Ohio University researchers have received permission for an early return to their labs to conduct research on potential treatments for COVID-19.

While most on-campus research activity was paused under the state’s stay-at-home order, the university has allowed a limited amount of essential work to continue — with close attention to safety. Research related to the COVID-19 pandemic qualifies as essential, said Joseph Shields, vice president for research and creative activity.

“Given the serious and significant impact of COVID-19 on our world, Ohio University has allowed some of its researchers to resume work in labs to join the global scientific fight against this virus. We also are helping our faculty identify and apply for new external funding opportunities for COVID-19 research,” Shields said.

In April, the University announced that Kelly McCall and Doug Goetz of the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine and Russ College of Engineering and Technology, respectively, had been awarded a $100,000 Fast Grant from Emergent Ventures, a fellowship and grant program at the Mercatus Center of George Mason University. The researchers are examining specific compounds that could have the potential to inhibit the “cytokine storms” that may lead to serious medical complications and death in individuals infected with the coronavirus.

Three research labs in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences are using other funding sources and the expertise of their faculty, student and staff research teams to investigate other possible ways to combat COVID-19.

Professor Shiyong Wu, who serves as director of the Edison Biotechnology Institute, and his team are examining whether a particular bacterium could be used to neutralize the coronavirus. The parasitic bacterium protects people from infectious pathogens, he explained, and can survive in various microenvironments found within the human body. The Wu team will determine if they can embed the peptides that COVID-19 seeks to attach to in the human body within the bacterium. This could allow the bacterium to intercept the virus before it can spread further through the body.

“We know what coronavirus targets — we know the receptor it attacks on human cells,” he said.

If the idea shows promise, the researchers can ask an external lab to perform toxicology tests.

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