As scientists around the globe continue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic on multiple fronts, researchers at the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute (HWI) are actively engaged in the battle.
Work is currently taking place at HWI’s Crystallization Center on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus to understand key components that make up the novel coronavirus. That work is being complemented by the work of researchers at HWI’s IMCA-CAT research facility in Chicago, where staff are working with the pharmaceutical industry and academic institutions on drug discovery efforts.
At the Crystallization Center in Buffalo, a facility that has supported more than 1,000 laboratories around the world since it began operations two decades ago, non-infectious but key parts of the virus are being coaxed into crystals, which can help researchers understand the structure of the virus. Knowing what these extremely small viral parts look like can then help researchers understand if existing drugs can be effective in fighting the virus, as well as aid in the design of new drug therapies. Meanwhile, HWI’s team at the Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago is using intense X-rays from a synchrotron, a circular instrument almost three-quarters of a mile in diameter, to probe different parts of the virus.
“HWI is, quite literally, making the invisible visible,” said Dr. Edward Snell, CEO, Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute. “Knowing your enemy, which, in this case, is impossible to see with the naked eye, is one of the keys to victory in any battle. To fight COVID-19, we have to learn more about this new enemy, so that we can design an army of pharmaceuticals specifically to fight the virus. Our staff is working around the clock on two important fronts in this national, and even global, effort.”
HWI is also in the process of establishing powerful new technology in Buffalo that has been effective in the ongoing COVID-19 research and response efforts around the world.
After the first case of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus was reported in November 2019, researchers were able to determine the first three-dimensional picture of one vital part of the virus by February, using a Cryo-Electron Microscope. HWI is in the process of constructing a Cryo-Electron Microscopy (Cryo-EM) center at its Ellicott Street facility, with plans to have the first microscope operational by the fall. The microscope uses electrons to take pictures of individual proteins that are flash-frozen in motion and utilizes high-power computers to calculate what these proteins look like. This allows scientists and researchers to more quickly develop life-saving pharmaceuticals. This will be the first Cryo-EM facility in all of Upstate New York.
“History and science tell us that there will always be new viruses, and new public health wars to fight,” Snell said. “In bringing Cryo-EM technology to Buffalo, we are positioning our facility and our region to take on an even more meaningful role in those future wars, so that we can be on the front line in understanding these unseen enemies and developing therapies that protect and help save people’s lives.”
About Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute
Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute’s work improves human health by studying the causes of diseases, as well as potential therapies, at their basic molecular level. HWI is a founding member of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, and resides in a state-of-the-art research facility at 700 Ellicott Street. For more information, visit hwi.buffalo.edu.
Phil Pantano, Pantano & Associates