Posted: Jun 13, 2013 7:52 PM by Jacquelien Quynh - MTN News
HAMILTON - It's unusual for outsiders to get a look at the work being done at Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton.
But we wanted to find out about researchers efforts to treat the deadly Coronavirus, which was discovered last year. It hasn't reached the United States, but it has proven fatal to more than half of its victims. "Well, we think, is this going to be the next SARS?," said Vincent Munster, Virologist.
That's the question researchers are asking about the new coronavirus discovered late 2012. It's similar to SARS and the common cold. They now know it can spread from person to person. And it's deadly. "Out of these 55 cases, approximately the half succumbed to this disease," said Munster.
With recent cases popping up in a handful of European nations, and in Africa, the growing concern is how it could spread to the US. "I think there's definitely a potential for that virus to end up in the US that said, the people who get severely ill seem so far people with underlying conditions," Munster said. In other words it's worse in people who have weakened immune systems. Munster says so far in most of the cases, there seems to be a connection to travel.
"People from the Middle East come to place like UK, traveling with that virus to the UK," Munster said.
And it's at Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton Montana where Vincent Munster, a virologist and researchers are studying how the virus spreads.
"And it's here in the lab where researchers look at thin sections of the coronavirus to see how they affect host cells. What we actually did was try to mimic what is going on in humans, and use that model to design prophylactic, or therapeutic countermeasures," Munster said.
The lab was one of the first in the US to get a sample because of Munster's connection his former lab in the Netherlands where the earliest samples were sent. And then, a breakthrough. Researchers at Rocky Mountain combined two existing antiviral drugs, interferon and ribavirin.
"So these have both been approved for use in humans, for hepatitis C virus and we combined that treatment and it seems to be working quite well in our primate model," Munster said.
In other words, this research could lead to a treatment. And that means if the virus does get here, this could give scientists an idea towards containing it.
The CDC says this coronavirus acts like a cold virus -and attacks the respiratory system, but symptoms, which include fever and a cough, are severe and can, lead to pneumonia and kidney failure. Scientists are still investigating how people get infected.