This article was written by Alexiss Turner, Marketing and Communications Manager from the College of Engineering, for the recently published “Here We Have Idaho” magazine. IMCI and many of our faculty participants have been very involved in the COVID-19 pandemic response. We are proud to be part of the many research efforts campus-wide that continue to help ensure the health and safety of Idaho residents. Read the article in its entirety here.

U of I Works with Communities to Bring Innovation and Research Expertise in Response to COVID-19 Pandemic

As the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to impact Idaho, experts across the University of Idaho have united to bring innovative solutions to Gem State communities in need and help ensure the health and safety of Idaho residents…

A Cure Through Defense

A research team in the Department of Biological Sciences is working to develop a one-size fits-all drug that could protect human cells from many coronaviruses, including the one responsible for COVID-19.

“Humans have similar genetics,” Department of Biological Sciences Virologist and Assistant Professor Paul Rowley said. “From the point of view of a human protein, a targeted drug therapy could be a universal solution.”

The COVID-19 virus attaches to a human cell using spike proteins that have evolved to dock with the specific ACE2 receptor. Once attached, the spike protein begins transferring genetic material to the cell, tricking the cell to generate more virus.

Rowley is working with Jagdish Patel, a College of Science molecular modeling specialist and research assistant professor, and others to use computational modeling to virtually sift through millions of molecules and optimize existing drugs to identify potential inhibitors that could shield the ACE2 receptor, preventing the virus that causes COVID-19 from docking in the first place.

“By using a computational 3-D map of this human cell receptor, we can determine which virtual molecules, out of thousands, would bind strongly,” said Patel. “Using chemistry and physics-based algorithms, we can rank the binding and visualize the molecule on the computer to see how they bind. The strong binders — which bind as intended — will be purchased and sent to Dr. Rowley’s lab for empirical testing in the fall.”

Working collaboratively with researchers in the Institute for Modeling Collaboration and Innovation has helped the team earn funding needed to keep research developing through the summer and fall semesters.