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Butler University researchers have been searching for a coronavirus cure for years

Butler University coronavirus research team
Posted at 5:36 PM, Mar 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-04 19:29:48-05

The United States has, so far, seen 11 deaths from coronavirus and on Wednesday, Congress agreed to allocate $8 billion in emergency spending to help fight it. Researchers around the world and close to home have been chasing a cure for the deadly virus for years.

Researchers at Butler University in Indianapolis, including Cincinnati native Chris Stobart, have been studying the coronavirus for about a decade. Stobart said the 2019 novel coronavirus, referred to as COVID-19, is the seventh type of human coronavirus.

"The work we're doing here is working towards trying to understand one of the proteins that the virus needs for its replication," said Stobart, an assistant professor at Butler University.

He said if that protein is blocked, the virus is basically dead, since it can no longer reproduce.

"If we can find these unique parts of this protein that are essential for its function, and its regulation, then we can develop some inhibitors, or drug targets, drugs to be targeting this virus going forward," he said.

His team is preparing to release its first set of findings soon, and he hopes the team can pair with a pharmaceutical company to work on a drug. Unfortunately, he said, that drug likely won't be available any time soon.

"There will likely be another coronavirus in the future," said Stobart. "So the preparations going on right now ... that information will help us with the next time."

Stobart said the current panic -- and overbuying of face masks and antibacterials -- isn't uncommon. He's seen it before with other forms of the coronavirus, like SARS in the early 2000s. But he said he's hopeful the work his lab is doing could one day provide the answers for how to treat -- and stop -- the virus.

"SARS, when it emerged, we saw a lot of the same panic, confusion, hysteria," said Stobart.

Stobart doesn't expect a vaccine to be readily available for consumers to help this version of the coronavirus, but he hopes that when the next version emerges, his team will be there with answers.

In the meantime, the Cincinnati Health Department has warned that masks are not actually recommended by officials, but sanitizers and a healthy dose of hand-washing are going to be key to preventing the spread of the virus.

"That's the best way to put it," said Dr. Grant Mussman, interim medical director at the Cincinnati Health Department. "I think good basic hygiene is really important, so try to avoid touching your face a lot in public. Use lots of hand sanitizers."