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at the Case School of Engineering


Covid fighter 

Chemistry professor helped discover a way to block the spread of the coronavirus.

With the Delta variant surging and Omicron emerging in late November, the news from CWRU reminded people that scientists are on the job. 

A cross-collegiate team of researchers announced they had discovered compounds that can slow and even block the spread of the coronavirus inside the body. The discovery could lead to new, more effective medicines for people battling Covid-19. 

Blanton Tolbert, PhD, the Rudolph and Susan Rense Professor of Chemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences, and one of the lead researchers, expressed hope that the discovery will lead to new “small molecule” virus-fighting drugs. Although Covid vaccines are widely available, drugs that help people survive and recover from infection remain limited. 

Tolbert and his colleagues, who include researchers from Duke and Rutgers universities, have a patent pending on their method and plan to modify the chemical compounds to make them more powerful. 

Their collaboration began at an informal February 2020 meeting at Duke among members of the three main research groups — just as the first novel coronavirus cases arrived in the United States, according to a press release from CWRU. 

“We laid out the first steps to inhibit SARS-CoV-2 because the group anticipated that the virus might become a bigger public health concern than it was initially perceived,” Tolbert said. 

The coronavirus works by breaking into a body’s cells, delivering genetic information in the form of RNA, and then hijacking the body’s molecular machinery to build new copies of itself, the news release said. Existing medications — such as remdesivir and Paxlovid — fight the virus by binding proteins. A small-molecule antiviral, in contrast, works by binding to RNA itself. 

“This is a new way to think about antivirals for RNA viruses,” Tolbert’s colleague Amanda Hargrove, a chemistry professor at Duke, said in a statement. “This is a new way to think about antivirals for RNA viruses.” 

Other members of Tolbert’s lab involved in the discovery were post-doctoral student Le Luo and graduate students Christina Haddad, Jesse Davila-Calderon, and Liang Yuan-Chiu. Their findings were published in the journal Science Advances. 

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