University of Idaho

MOSCOW, Idaho - Scientists at the University of Idaho are currently working to identify a cure for COVID-19.

According to U of I, the Department of Biological Sciences team expects to finish preliminary tests within a year. Researchers will also develop a pipeline for identifying drugs that can block viruses from infecting human cells.

The project was funded through a $100,000 National Science Foundation EPSCoR grant issues to U of I physics professor Marty Ytreberg.

“Funding agencies are giving leeway to researchers with existing grants to shuttle resources toward the COVID pandemic,” Ytreberg said. “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.”

Other members of the team include:

  • Jagdish Patel, molecular modeling specialist and research assistant professor
  • Paul Rowley, virologist and assistant professor 
  • JT Van Leuven, evolutionary biologist and research assistant professor

“The University of Idaho’s research engine has pivoted quickly in the battle against COVID-19,” President Scott Green said. “I’m proud of this team for taking the initiative to help develop a cure for this virus. Their work is rising to the challenge we all face during this difficult time and will help save countless lives in the process.”

The team hopes to create a drug shielding human cells rather than attacking viruses. Researches say the spike proteins on the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) dock with the ACE2 receptor protein on the surface of human cells. This genetic material tricks the cell into generating more virus, an interaction the team wants a drug to prevent.

They also will look to improve know molecules, screening a large library of them that could act as inhibitors for SARS-CoV-2. Through this process, they plan to develop a multidisciplinary pipeline for antiviral drug development during future potential outbreaks.

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

To learn more about the U of I project, click here.