Researcher’s Coronavirus weaknesses findings a path to potential treatments

04 May 2020

A researcher from Aberystwyth University has developed a method of identifying potential hotspots in the Coronavirus, which could help develop vaccines and drug treatments.

As part of a team from Aberystwyth and Edinburgh Universities, Nicholas Dimonaco, a PhD student at the Institute of Biological, Environmental & Rural Sciences (IBERS) of the University, contributed to an international research event this month.

The five day event brought together a broad group of experts, including data scientists, biomedical researchers and health professionals, to work on coronavirus research. Mr Dimonaco’s team was among four winners out of 1,500 people who applied to take part in the event and twenty teams chosen to make formal presentations.

His team compared mutations in the Covid-19 virus in people, with similar viruses in bats and other animals such as pangolins. As well as giving a better understanding of the nature of Coronavirus, the research will help others exploit its potential weaknesses which would help develop treatments and vaccines.

Mr Dimonaco from Aberystwyth University commented:

“As a team, we started by identifying the mutations which are in the human Covid-19 genome but not in similar viruses in bats, due to their perceived lineage. We have drawn on 180 bat Coronavirus genomes and data from Covid-19 from Wuhan and Germany. By identifying the variations within, and the similarities between, in these genomes, I hope it will enable thousands of laboratories around the world to find potential drug treatments and vaccines. 

“Because of the current health crisis, we are continuing to meet as a team every week at the moment. We are also using existing technologies to speed-up the research process. We are grateful for the sponsorship from the companies involved in the event as well as the two universities who are supporting us as a team.”

Professor Colin McInnes, Pro Vice-Chancellor at Aberystwyth University added:

“Congratulations to the team on their success. In these very trying times, it’s important for everyone to come together to support the effort to tackle this cruel virus. We are pleased that a number of departments in the University, including IBERS, are using their expertise to help stem the virus, as well as enhance knowledge of it.”

“The University is contributing in a variety of ways within our local community, nationally and beyond with the clear aim of doing everything we can to support efforts to tackle Covid-19.”

Nicholas Dimonaco’s team received a small financial award to support further work on the research project. The other researchers in his team are David Parry from Edinburgh University along with Mazdak Salavati and Barbara Shih from the Roslin Institute. The team’s full research paper is expected to be published over the coming weeks.