Fanshawe College is contributing its leading-edge facilities and scientific expertise in the fight to halt the COVID-19 pandemic.

Abdulla Mahboob, manager of Fanshawe’s Centre for Applied Research and Innovation in Biotechnology (CARIB) labs, is conducting research that may translate into an effective treatment for COVID-19. The study is focused on how small proteins can hinder the virus’ replication - the mechanism the virus uses to make copies of itself and spread in a person infected with COVID-19.

“When a virus enters the body, its ability to produce devastating effects is due to its capacity to make copies of itself while evading the body’s immune system,” explains Mahboob. “In coronaviruses, certain proteins are required to bind together to make the viral genetic material look more like the cell’s, hence evading the protective mechanisms that have evolved to recognize unusual genetic materials. If we stop the proteins from binding together, we can expose the virus to the cell’s immunity, which in turn will stop the spread of the virus itself in the patient.”

Researchers in the CARIB labs are investigating the use of a custom inhibitor to block these proteins from binding together and halt the replication of the virus in patients with COVID-19.

Testing is currently underway in the CARIB labs using mammalian cells that contain the specific proteins targeted by this research. Once efficacy has been determined, the inhibitors will be sent to an outside lab to test on the COVID-19 virus in laboratory-grown cells.

Research teams at Fanshawe are also working on additional studies that may benefit patients with COVID-19. Work is underway to explore the ability to manufacture other potential therapeutics at large scale, and another study is beginning immediately to examine cannabis-extract therapies that have potential to treat blood clots and inflammation that occur in life-threatening COVID-19 cases.

“The work being done in applied research at Fanshawe is very responsive to immediate needs in our world,” adds Colin Yates, chair of the Centre for Research and Innovation. “Because of the collective knowledge and advanced facilities within our institution, our team is able to address emerging challenges in house. This setup has allowed us to immediately answer the call to join the COVID-19 fight.”

Preliminary results of this work are showing promise, and following confirmation that the process is effective with the live virus, work will begin to move the project towards its use as a viable treatment.

Thanks to support from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) through its contribution to the Niagara College-led Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI), Fanshawe’s Centre for Research and Innovation has been able to continue its applied research activities, immediately pivoting efforts to address the pandemic.

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