BU NEIDL Scientists Can “See the Enemy,” Making Headway on COVID-19 Research

First things first: in order to take out an enemy, you’ve got to be able to see the enemy. But how do you “see” a seemingly invisible invader like SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus responsible for more than a million COVID-19 infections around the world? Scientists at Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL) have found a way to light up the SARS-CoV-2 virus using glowing antibodies, making it possible to detect the virus as it infects laboratory cell cultures.

“We can now see the enemy—it’s like switching on the lights in a dark room,” says NEIDL microbiologist Robert Davey. It’s the first major step forward in his team’s SARS-CoV-2 research that began on March 19, 2020. They and other teams at NEIDL—including one group examining SARS-CoV-2 and the immune response it inflames in animals—are the only scientists in New England working with live copies of the novel coronavirus.

Davey’s team specializes in pitting thousands upon thousands of drugs—small molecules made of different chemical concoctions—against lab cultures of cells infected with contagions, allowing them to rapidly detect which drugs are most effective at halting or reducing infection. Now that they’ve effectively got eyes on the SARS-CoV-2 virus’ whereabouts inside the cells it infects, the team is ready to screen upwards of 20,000 drug compounds to test their efficacy in halting or reducing COVID-19 infections.


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