‘Laser tweezers’ in nano lab used in search for drug to prevent COVID-19 replication – The Province

By Nicole Bergot

A drug can prevent the virus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic from replicating once inside an infected host, say researchers at the University of Alberta now searching for that magic bullet.

We aim to identify drugs that can be tested for effectiveness and safety in future trials, said Michael Woodside, a professor in the department of physics, using $370,700 in emergency funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to find the elusive drug.

The plan is to screen first for drugs that are already approved for human use that could be repurposed to treat COVID-19 more quickly before broadening the search to potential drugs that are not currently approved.

Woodside explains that the genome of the novel coronavirus is made up of ribonucleic acid (RNA), not DNA so once inside an infected host, the virus inserts its RNA genome into the cell causing the creation of proteins the virus needs to replicate. And for all of this to occur, the novel coronavirus uses a process called programmed ribosomal frameshibing (PRF), a topic that Woodside, as a biophysicist, and his lab have been studying for years.

Researchers using laser tweezers to mimic what happens inside an infected cell were able to identify the mechanism through which PRF is triggered and now they can find molecular compounds to stop it from happening.

Most efforts to find drugs look for compounds that target the viral proteins directly, explains Woodside. Whats different about our approach is that we are targeting the virus through its RNA, rather than the proteins.

Woodside, inside the National Research Council of Canadas Nanotechnology Research Centre right here in Edmonton, is working closely with grad students, American counterparts, and Jack Tuszynski, a biophysics professor also in the department of physics, currently on secondment to the department of oncology in the faculty of medicine and dentistry.

Interdisciplinary research and scientific collaborations are essential to stopping the COVID-19 pandemic, said Woodside. Solutions have to engage expertise and approaches across a wide range of areas to understand the biophysics of the viral molecules, the biology of virus replication, the chemistry of drugs and their interactions with targets, the response of the immune system, the symptoms and epidemiology of the disease, and the response of patients to treatments.

Building and validating a model of the viral RNA for drug screening will occur over the next few months, with screening to identify approved drugs to follow before any potential candidates move toward preclinical tests.

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'Laser tweezers' in nano lab used in search for drug to prevent COVID-19 replication - The Province

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