MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Researchers at the Regional Biocontainment Lab at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center could be the first to find a cure or treatment for the coronavirus. The lab is one of 12 created after 9/11 to research infectious diseases and biodefense and they just began work on COVID-19.
Dr. Colleen Jonsson leads the lab.
“We’ve studied influenza, West Nile virus, alpha viruses and we’ve been identifying small molecule therapeutics for all of them,” she said.
“Small molecule therapeutics” reference medicine that can treat these viruses and maybe even find a cure.
Even though reports of the coronavirus emerged in China late last year, her lab just got a first sample of it a couple weeks ago.
“We had to have a case in the United States that allowed them to isolate the virus here in the United States,” she said.
She said transporting the virus from China would’ve been difficult and dangerous.
Now that they have it, they’re working to find new or existing medications that could help.
“We are just now at a place where we have enough seed stock to actually do experiments,” she said. “What my lab has been working on for more than 30 years are cures for neglected and exotic viruses.”
She said if they find an existing medicine that helps with Coronavirus, it could get approved relatively quickly, but she couldn’t give an exact timetable.
Her lab has also partnered with a U.S. Department of Energy lab in Oak Ridge, Tennessee to do the research.