Two Waterloo Science researchers awarded infrastructure funding for COVID research

Friday, November 6, 2020

Professor Emeritus Gary Dmitrienko from the Department of Chemistry and Professor Mark Servos from the Department of Biology and have been awarded research infrastructure grants to support their COVID-19 research.

Gary DmitrienkoGary Dmitrienko has been awarded $251K of funding, which will be used towards his project researching antiviral drug candidates for the treatment of COVID-19.

The goal of the present research project is to discover antiviral drug candidates to treat COVID19 infections. After invading a human cell, the SARS CoV-2 virus, that causes COVID19 infections, directs the cell to forma specific large protein molecule. Before the virus can induce formation of many copies of itself within the human cell which then leave the cell to infect other cells, the large protein molecule must first be converted into several smaller protein molecules, each of which has an essential role to play in spreading the virus to otherwise healthy cells within the infected individual. This is accomplished by the main protease (also called Mpro), an enzyme that is initially a part of the large protein molecule but that then cleaves itself from the large protein and catalyzes the conversion of the large protein into the smaller proteins that are essential for the replication of the virus in the human host. Mpro is an attractive target for specific small organic molecules as inhibitors of this process. This project involves the design and synthesis of molecules that will indicate the presence of Mpro activity through creation of an intense colour change (from yellow to deep purple). This will guide the design and synthesis of new drugs to treat COVID19 infections. The equipment requested is essential to purify the synthetic compounds to be made in this study.

Mark ServosMark Servos has been awarded $314K of funding, which will be used towards his project in wastewater surveillance of SARS-Cov-2, to support the public health assessment of community infection.

The signal of viral fragments in wastewater (measured using polymerase chain reactions, PCR) can be strongly correlated to the reported positive tests or hospitalizations in the corresponding population (sewer-shed). This can be an additional tool to monitortrends in communities and inform public health actions that are not influenced by the same biases in human health testing (e.g. non-symptomatic cases, etc.).

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